Robin Jones Kerr: Inadequate library support shows a contradiction in GW’s research goals

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For years now, the University has been contradicting itself.

Our school has grand ambitions of becoming a research powerhouse – that is one of the central tenets of the decade-long strategic plan, which is driving the $1 billion fundraising campaign.

And central to that desire is Gelman Library, the heart of Foggy Bottom’s campus and fundamental to many students’ lives. Yet it continues to be, for the 10th year in a row, grossly underfunded and underappreciated, on any level other than cosmetic.

GW has made great strides in making Gelman Library a more student-friendly space – you’d be hard-pressed to hear a bad word about the beautiful new entrance floor.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Robin Jones Kerr

But cosmetic niceties simply aren’t enough anymore. Support goes further: it means the University develops functioning staff models so librarians can adequately provide help to students, and it means allocating enough money to our libraries to strengthen their collections, and subsequently, improve our research capabilities.

You can’t do great research without strong collections at your disposal, and you can’t build a national reputation if you aren’t able to support students.

I’m a student staffer at Eckles Library, and while my views obviously don’t represent those of the library system, I was concerned to hear that demand from writing professors has shot up recently. That has put a strain on librarians’ already limited time, and they’ve started looking for alternate methods to connect with students, like creating online modules.

On top of that, the libraries are struggling financially. GW experienced a budget shortfall this year, and although the library system was one of only three University departments to receive a budget increase, that $300,000 was only enough to cover the cost of inflation on our many subscriptions.

In other words, nothing’s changed – no improvements to our services, collections or research capabilities – even after the libraries’ first budget increase in 10 years. The increase came after a damning outside report on the state of the library, and a pledge from Provost Steven Lerman to funnel more money to it.

Yes, money doesn’t grow on trees, and, yes, GW has had to tighten its belt this year.

But Gelman will never be the top-tier research facility that GW needs it to be without the resources to provide students with adequate librarian assistance, and if it isn’t able to grow its collections beyond where they’ve stayed for years. The University is asking a lot from its libraries, but simply is not giving them the necessary resources to accomplish it all.

And it’s a slap in the face to students when their school talks about research priorities – look no further than across the street from Gelman at the massive $275 million Science and Engineering Hall – but fails to provide adequate resources to students on a day-to-day basis.

This demands either a reallocation of resources or a refocusing of rhetoric. The University simply can’t have it both ways anymore.

Robin Jones Kerr, a senior majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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