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The FGLI Program Donated Textbook Collection, which was previously stored in the Greenfield Intercultural Center (above) will be moved to the Van Pelt Library.

Credit: Emily Xu

The First-Generation, Low-Income Textbook Library collection has moved to Van Pelt Library, ending a three-year occupancy in the Greenfield Intercultural Center's attic.

Students previously reported that the FGLI library's GIC location was understaffed and lacked adequate technology, calling for more space and funding. Now, students are able to reserve books from the FGLI library online and pick up orders from Van Pelt or ship their materials to their off-campus learning address free of charge.

Founded in 2017, the FGLI library helps students save hundreds of dollars on required course materials each semester. The library opened for the spring semester on Jan. 5 under the new arrangement with Penn Libraries, in which students are able to search for materials through Van Pelt's online LIBRA Course Text selection

Due to a high volume of materials, the FGLI library no longer accepts all donations. Students must now fill out a Google form and have their donation approved by staffers at the library. 

FGLI Program Director Toyce Holmes said she was relieved the move finally came to fruition after talks to relocate the library began in fall 2019. Now, the responsibility of keeping track of books falls on Penn Libraries, and a liaison maintains communication between the parties, Holmes said.

"It's still a partnership, [but] we don't see day-to-day how many books are going out or, you know, 'I need to pull this.' The library has taken that on, and we thank them for that," Holmes said.

The process of physically relocating the books from the GIC to the Van Pelt Library started in spring 2020 before being halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While closed for the fall semester, Penn Libraries hired a moving company to help the GIC relocate the textbooks, Holmes said.

While housed in the GIC's attic, processing requests could be time consuming for GIC work-study students, who reported that the outdated software in the library caused requests to take up to two hours to fulfill. All the library's information was stored on spreadsheets, and students had to submit textbook requests through a Google form. 

The GIC does not have an elevator, and students had to climb up and down the stairs to deliver the books, Nursing sophomore and GIC work-study student Nyair Locklear said.

"The actual GIC building is fairly small and is an older building. It's got really steep stairs but no elevator, and all the textbooks were stored on the top floors. So every time textbooks had to be moved, one had to carry all that weight up and down the stairs all the time," Locklear said. "It was difficult to organize, especially as more and more students started using the library and receiving more textbooks."

Penn First Plus Executive Director Marc Lo said addressing the logistical problems with the FGLI library were one the GIC's top priorities when he joined Penn's staff in January 2019. The closure of the FGLI textbook library in the fall made the process of moving the donated textbook library to Van Pelt easier, he added.

Locklear said finding affordable textbooks last semester was confusing for some students as the FGLI library did not operate in fall 2020 due to the pandemic. 

"It's been super difficult to keep track of what resources are and aren't still running," Locklear said. "When you change anything, especially during the pandemic, it's just been more difficult."

While the library was closed last fall, Lo sent an email to the Penn First Plus mailing list offering free access codes for a limited number of FGLI students in certain courses. College first year Kelly Garcia-Ramos said she found this helpful, and praised the accessibility of the FGLI library as a resource this semester.

“I find that what holds people back from applying to Penn is the financial reasons, but Penn has amazing resources for people like me,” she said. “I would definitely recommend [the library] to other students if they’re ever worried about textbooks.”

Holmes said she is excited for the future of the library, adding that since it is now under the jurisdiction of Penn Libraries with the ability to order books online for shipping, it is more accessible to FGLI students.

“The library has dedicated staff there to properly catalog it. What’s great about it now — which is a payoff — is that Penn Libraries can ship these for free to students,” Holmes said. “I don’t know if we could’ve offered that service if we had it at the GIC.”

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