Trading libraries for classrooms: Towne Library closes
Students and faculty argue that there is still a need for physical books
June 3, 2014, 10:06 pm · Updated June 4, 2014, 10:20 pm·
Next semester, engineering students will have to look for new quiet study spots.
Penn’s engineering library, in the Towne Building, officially closed on May 20.
According to a press release, some of the books currently being held in the Towne Library will be moved to Penn’s off-campus storage facility known as the Libraries Research Annex (LIBRA), located in West Deptford, NJ. These books will be available upon request via the Franklin Online Catalog.
“It’s a great place for people who have classes close by the Towne building or DRL to study,” Engineering sophomore Doug Cotler said. “I’m sad to see it close down.”
In addition, part of the Math-Physics Library in David Rittenhouse Laboratory will be renovated into active learning classrooms, which allow students to learn with the help of demonstrations and other hands-on activities.
These changes, however, have been met with increasing controversy.
Several graduate and doctoral students took action and circulated a petition — which amounted to almost 1000 student signatures — following the announcement of the library closing. This outcry allowed for a compromise that would retain some of the books in the Math-Physics library. Many professors spent months trying to sort out what books and journals would remain on campus, but the choice was complicated due to the varying needs of different disciplines.
“We are going through an irreversible sea of change,” Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science Eduardo Glandt said in a past email. “The book or journal printed on cellulose is becoming a collector’s item, a wonderful artifact to be saved and preserved.”
Some faculty and students are still unsettled and not convinced.
“Everyone knows that there are all sorts of things online; but math books, for the most part, aren’t. Some things you really need in front of you,” said Math Professor David Harbater.
These changes continue to outrage graduate students who feel they had no input in the matter. Many students utilized the books that the library offered for research. Harbater believes that while our generation relies largely on online publications, there is still a demand for physical books.
“The closure of [Towne] library had a surprising effect: it made me realize how useful physical libraries can be,” Engineering Ph.D student Greg Henselman said in an email. “After hearing from the mathematicians how important it was for them to be able to browse the stacks, and on learning the engineering library was going to close, I made a point of exploring the shelves in the optimization section, which I’d never done before.”
Harbater has also questioned the reason for the implementation of new active learning classrooms. “Universities are concerned that everything is going online, and this may be an attempt to make universities more relevant,” he said. “They are trying to discover what works well and what doesn’t.”