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Report recommends building new library, renovating old

The Faculty Committee on the Library System has issued a report calling for the construction of a new combined Science and Engineering Library and the renovation and expansion of an integrated Humanities and Social Science Library in Building 14. The report, "MIT Libraries: Meeting Critical Needs for the 21st Century," asks that the MIT administration initiate a planning study of sites, costs and funding sources.

Academic Council, the Undergraduate Association, the Graduate Student Council, the Corporation Libraries Visiting Committee and the Faculty Policy Committee have expressed support for the recommendations of the report. The next phase in planning will include conversations with students, faculty and departments for input in determining future requirements for these two libraries.

Markus Zahn, chair of the Faculty Committee on the Library System, said, "This study identified the severe lack of library space as a serious impediment to education and research at MIT. The lack of seating, lack of shelf space for books and journals, and lack of adequate space for state-of-the-art reference and instructional services present a critical problem for students and faculty. The report rebuts arguments from those who believe that digital technology will eliminate the need for library physical space, and makes recommendations so that the libraries can provide the critical information resources needed by the MIT community in the 21st century.

"These recommendations also will help to improve the quality of MIT community life and thereby aid MIT's commitment to a residential campus by providing calm and orderly places to work and study. We are pleased that the MIT administration has agreed to initiate a planning study to evaluate options, sites and costs and to identify donors and other funding sources to bring the recommendation to timely fruition," said Zahn, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

The committee's report discusses the role of well-designed and contemporary library facilities in enhancing the productivity of faculty and students. Such facilities serve as unified centers for creating, managing, using and sharing information; supporting new educational technology; preparing students for life-long learning; and providing necessary services to users with disabilities.

The study points out that the promise of digital technology to reduce the need for library space will not be realized in the foreseeable future because of issues such as changing hardware standards, vendor instability, copyright and licensing requirements, the library's archival responsibility, and the continuing needs of users for browsing, study and contemplation space, and obtaining librarian help in proximity to library materials. The plan for new library facilities must continue the MIT Libraries' present dual paths that integrate traditional human approaches to acquiring, managing, using and sharing information together with the use of technology to aid those approaches.

The report is available here.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 22, 2002.

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