A group of University of California at Berkeley students took over the school’s anthropology library this week in an effort to thwart plans for its closure.
On Monday, the fourth day of an occupation that began April 21, the students said they planned to live amid the stacks 24 hours a day until the administration reverses plans to close the George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library as part of its “long-term space plan.”
“We have met with the chancellor, we have tried every single bureaucratic channel,” said protest organizer Jesus Gutierrez, an anthropology Ph.D. Candidate.
“What is at stake here are the values and principles of the university and the resources of the curated collection,” Gutierrez said.
The students say UC Berkeley administration has been trying to close the library since 2012, but a similar student-led occupation kept the doors open.
Then, in February, the university proposed closing the anthropology library along with two other small specialty libraries for math statistics and for physics and astronomy and merging them with other, larger libraries.
“Regarding the Anthropology library’s closure, we, too, wish the library could remain open, but that is not an option at this point,” campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email.
“Regarding the protest, we are monitoring the situation,” Gilmore said.
Web browsing over book browsing
The plan is necessary due to shrinking budgets and it calls for “low-use materials” to be transferred to a facility in Richmond and for “a significant portion” of the collections to stay on campus in Berkeley, “where the materials will be available for browsing and checkout for longer hours than they are currently,” according to a description of the plan on the school’s website.
The university also suggests that its online library search tool can be used to better effect than physically looking for materials in person.
“Browsing shelves is not the primary approach for students and scholars at a research-intensive university like Berkeley, whose libraries hold more than 13 million volumes,” according to the website description.
“There is a serious lack of understanding by some folks in the administration who seem to believe that the future is so digital that there’s no real place for books in a tight and difficult public education budget in California.”Jesus Gutierrez, protest organizer
The students, however, say distributing the small libraries’ collections throughout campus will create serious hurdles to accessibility and that a deeply valuable in-person experience will be lost in the process.
“There is a serious lack of understanding by some folks in the administration who seem to believe that the future is so digital that there’s no real place for books in a tight and difficult public education budget in California,” Gutierrez said.
“We believe differently,” he said. “When they prioritize something, they find the money for it.” Organizers say the core group of about 30 protesters is being supported by students, alumni and faculty from several different academic departments and they continue to reach out to the campus community to generate enthusiasm for their demands.
“If you walked into the library right now, you’d see tons of sleeping bags all over the place, students studying, clubs meeting, teacher assistants from other departments doing office hours, air mattresses and couple of tents,” Gutierrez said.
More information about the effort to save the library can be found online.