You may have noticed that Parks Library now has new chairs and tables in the first floor lobby. Much ado about these chairs was made last spring, as our very own Government of the Student Body argued whether or not to fund, in whole or in part, those library chairs. Ultimately GSB decided against the funding on the basis that they’d be using student fees for a departmental expense. However, everyone essentially agreed unanimously: Parks Library is important to student life, and it needed new chairs.
This need was left the problem of Olivia Madison, dean of the library. Touched by the concern students had for their library, Ms. Madison went to work trying to find the money. As a story that ran in the Daily this summer said, “Madison saw this passion from other senators during the debates and did not want to lose the momentum. She decided to go forward with the renovations, embarking on a collaborative effort in improving the space.”
But there was a problem: Believe it or not, Parks Library does not have a discrete budget for those kinds of improvements. That problem translates into the need for Madison to be extremely creative in finding money. The money used for projects such as the chairs, or things like installing more electrical plugs for laptops, must ultimately come from a lost expense elsewhere or donations.
For example, if someone quits or retires from the library, Parks Library administration can divert their salary towards upgrades — but at the cost of not replacing that which was lost. Madison has gotten pretty smart in finding outside funding, too. In the past she’s found grants, courted private donations and occasionally arm-twisted the university into throwing the library a bone. Madison said the money for the library chairs came from funds received during the ISU Foundation’s annual Call-a-Thon.
Clearly, the library makes every effort to use these funds to really make a difference for those students who use the library. If you’ve been in the library much in the last few weeks since the chairs arrived, you may have noticed that the front lobby area is more occupied than ever.
We can certainly look to Parks Library as a model of fiscal efficiency, excellent management and administrative creativity. However, at some point, the need for such creativity becomes ridiculous. A department as critical as Parks Library shouldn’t have to beg and borrow just to meet the basic needs of students, let alone their wants. We have to question the fact that the library’s administration is forced to use the salaries from former employees, rather than rehiring them to serve us better, to fund what the library ought to have a budget to fund outright.
When talking to Madison, she pointed out to me that the University of Iowa’s library is in the middle of a renovation costing them tens of millions of dollars — a mere renovation that exceeds our library’s entire budget. Madison reports that Iowa State’s library is at the bottom of the list when it comes to library funding in our peer group and in the Big 12. To underscore the point, the Parks administration was ecstatic when they received approximately $700,000 in additional funding this year — a pittance to what everyone else gets, but nonetheless the first increase our library has received in many years, after enduring cut after cut after cut.
Madison isn’t complaining; she’s a happy warrior doing a job she loves the best way she can with what she’s given. However, we as students need to search our hearts and evaluate how important the library is for us as students, and how significant its role is in campus life. Even if you don’t visit the library regularly yourself, few can deny the importance and necessity of a library to a good university.
To paraphrase the quote from Robert Parks, the library’s namesake, which is inscribed on the outside of the library itself: The heart of a great university is a great library.
At the end of the day, despite the increasing corporate influence upon our public school, Iowa State is still our university. It is ours in every way: in property and in spirit. Because of this, we students still possess a lot of power in ensuring the success — or the failure through our inaction — of Iowa State. And Parks Library is an integral part of Iowa State that we have a great deal of ability to help.
It may be time, students of Iowa State, to look into lending our library a hand. Most universities have a library fee, ranging anywhere from a few dollars to as high as a few hundred per semester. Maybe it’s time to start a conversation about investigating such a fee here. Because if the state or the university can’t or won’t support our library, for whatever reason, then maybe we should talk about cutting through the red tape and doing it ourselves.