The library deserves a renovation

David Eide – Opinion Columnist

This week, the new Lund expansion officially opens for public use which has prompted some thought on my part regarding the future of other Gustavus buildings. Of course, the renovation of Lund is not done and likely will not be done for several more years but still I found my curiosity was piqued. On the Show the World fundraising campaign website there are short little write-ups detailing plans for future renovation projects including Christ Chapel and the Schaefer Fine Arts music building which I think everyone can agree are well overdue for a renovation. However, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of a building that I think is deserving and in need of an update, namely the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library.
This is not to insult the library, far from it, the library is one of my favorite spaces on campus and I’ve been spending a great deal of time there this semester as I find it to be an excellent study location. However, this semester has also highlighted to me some of the aspects in which the library is beginning to show its age. The current library complex opened in 1972 and has had little change since then, with new carpets and windows being added in the aftermath of the 1998 tornado that damaged much of the campus. I do appreciate the sense of history that comes along with this 50-year-old building but at a certain point retro can easily cross over into dated and I fear that has happened with the library.
There are a couple of major issues that the library faces as a result of its increasing age. The first and perhaps most important to address are the layout issues arising from the time in which the library was built. The study spaces in the library are some of my favorite places to go get some work done or attend my various Zoom meetings and classes, however I often run into the issue of them quickly filling up rather early in the day. It is clear that there is a large demand for these study rooms and any renovation to the library would surely need to add a few more simply to meet this demand. A more minor issue related to the study rooms is that many of them lack natural lighting that could be alleviated by the placement of a window.
Personally, this is not an issue that bothers me but I’ve talked to a couple of people who have said that they were turned off from the library study rooms due to this attribute. There is also the simple wear and tear that accumulates over time as a building continues to age, whether that be stains on the carpeting, wall damage, or increased exposure to the outside which increases the risk of certain animals getting in. I have personally experienced the latter a couple while in the study rooms where a bee or a wasp would fly out of seemingly nowhere which was kind of freaky. Gustavus buildings overall do seem to have a problem with keeping out wasps and bees oddly enough.
These thoughts are not new however, in fact in 2013 this very paper reported that there were plans afoot for a major library renovation. This renovation would have added more study rooms and greatly increased the amount of natural present in the library while also making major layout changes that would have totally changed how Gusties interact with the library. As I’m sure you’ve noticed however, this project ended up falling through due to fundraising issues as well as the feeling among the library committee that some of the layout changes would have harmed the libraries overall mission and visibility on campus. I am inclined to side with the library committee as after all, they do spend quite a bit more time there than me so they would know best. However, I am still a bit disappointed as some of the proposed designs are very nice from an architectural perspective.
I really can’t think of a reason why the library isn’t a major priority when it comes to renovation. Lund was built in 1984 more than a decade after the library and Schaefer was only built a year before the library so there’s no argument from an age perspective. While the library isn’t the focus of major programs like athletics or theater it’s still a common space utilized by basically everyone who goes to Gustavus so it’s clearly important. I think that ultimately the state of a library is a very good indicator of the state of an overall community, and I think that if we want to show that Gustavus is a truly strong community we need to place more emphasis on taking care of our library. As I said before, it is one of my favorite spaces on campus and I greatly appreciate the work its staff do for us. I still have a lot of hope that someday soon the library will see a similar renovation to the ones promised for Lund, Christ Chapel, and Schaefer, it deserves it.