Renewing Gelman

Every day more than 5,000 students, faculty and staff pass through the metal turnstiles of Gelman Library – and the number nearly doubles during exam periods. But library administrators say the aging building is ill-equipped to accommodate the crowds and the University is not prioritizing funding for improvements.

Since Gelman was built in 1973, GW’s undergraduate student population has nearly doubled, and the way students study has shifted toward laptop and Internet use. But in more than 30 years, only minor changes have been made to the library’s infrastructure, making Gelman’s resources inadequate to handle student expansion and changing technologies, said University Librarian Jack Siggins.

“We have to cover the larger quantity of students and we have to provide good resources for a broader number of courses and subjects and degrees,” Siggins said. “And again, the library’s budget has not kept up with that change.”

Siggins said his requests for more funding have been largely ignored by University administrators. At this month’s Board of Trustees meeting, the body did not discuss allocating more funds to the library.

Though he has pleaded for more funding, Siggins said his requests have fallen by the wayside in favor of expanding residence halls and other development projects. Currently the University is wrapping up construction on a $75 million residence hall on F Street, as well as renovations to Pelham Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus. A proposed $300 million science center is the cornerstone of the University’s 20-year campus plan.

University President Steven Knapp declined comment and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz did not respond to a request for comment.

Siggins said student concerns have also been overlooked.

In surveys distributed by the library in the past, Siggins said students have reported overwhelming dissatisfaction with the limited availability of seating, small group study rooms and electrical outlets.

Sophomore Ian Gindoff said that midterms and finals are the most problematic times to visit Gelman.

“It’s annoying that you can’t find a place to study,” he said.

Students interviewed were also critical of the library’s poor condition in relation to other, nicer aspects of campus.

“Prospective students who look at the school are given the impression that our primary pursuit isn’t academia when we flaunt comfortable dorms, full kitchens, GWorld and this whole eating at restaurants thing,” said sophomore Harrison Rudolph.

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said he recognizes the need for student study space. But rather than expanding space in Gelman, Chernak said the University is working to create extra study space in Pelham Hall and other places around campus.

“Clearly we want this institution to be more student-friendly,” Chernak said.

But after the recent conversion of areas of the library into small group study rooms for additional seating space, overcrowding remains an issue. Siggins attributed this to the fact that Gelman is two-thirds smaller than most libraries at universities the size of GW, adding that if the library wants to make changes they have to raise the funds themselves.

“It will take a huge investment of money from the University to modify this building to make it adequate in terms of outlets, and thus far the University hasn’t shown much interest in doing that,” Siggins said.

Currently the library receives funding from two main avenues: through an annual allocation from the University that Siggins said is usually only enough to cover library maintenance and through the voluntary library gift tacked on to student tuition bills.

The $50 optional library gift was created more than 20 years ago, and waning University financial support has elevated the gift from a supplementary to primary source of funding for library improvements, Siggins said.

Andrew Cooper, student liaison for the library, said this optional fee poses issues for the library since, consequently, the library’s budget is never predictable, making it difficult to make plans for the money.

Student Association leaders have been working to find solutions to increase the library’s operating budget to facilitate improvements to the ailing building.

SA Executive Vice President Kyle Boyer said that finding more efficient funding methods would serve multiple purposes.

“[It’s] not so much to push other options but to show that the way the library is funded now is a little bit of a ridiculous way of funding it,” Boyer said.

Last week, the SA Senate voted in favor of a resolution that advises GW administrators to create a mandatory library fee as a possible solution.

Student space and modernization are problems in other college libraries as well. Lauinger Library, the main library at Georgetown University – also built during the ’70s – has had to adjust to similar student body growth and technology upgrades.

“Because of the new ways in which people are learning and teaching and doing research, there are new demands on old buildings,” said Artemis Kirk, the Georgetown University librarian, adding that “the infrastructure of these buildings is far inferior to the current usage.”

But Kirk explained that in contrast to Gelman Library, Lauinger does not depend on gifts for funding but receives generous support from the university’s operating budget.

“The university knows we can’t get the great faculty and the great students that we want unless we have great resources,” she said.

At GW, Siggins appears resigned to the fact that the library is on the backburner of the University’s priorities, at least for the time being.

“The senior administration of the University has other priorities,” he said. “This is not one of them.”

Alli Hoff and Sarah Scire contributed to this report.

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