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Library’s function not an open book

As one walks up to the College’s library on a weeknight, the impressive five-story building glows warmly through its many windows and just slightly illuminates its red-brick exterior. Inside, the first floor hums with group projects, whispering study partners and the coffee makers in the café. The scene is straight out of Hollywood or a college brochure. Though something is missing from the classic tables and desks: books.

The café is a signature hangout spot, but students may not be so academically inclined there. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)

The café is a signature hangout spot, but students may not be so academically inclined there. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)

The library is home to just under 600,000 books, not including periodicals, according to the library’s website. Books in the collection, according to the site, have been “selected by faculty and subject specialist librarians to support course offerings of the College and to provide a broad representative collection of titles across many disciplines. This growing collection includes fiction, non-fiction, and children’s/youth books.”

On average, approximately 134 of these books are checked out each day, which translates to about only 0.02 percent of the library’s collection being checked out daily, according to 2012-2013 data on total library checkouts. The infrequency of books being checked out begs the question: What is the primary purpose of the College’s library for students?

Lifting up a large red book from a table in the library café, junior psychology major Dan Czarnowski laughed, explaining that it was coincidentally the first library book he has ever used.

“I technically haven’t even checked it out yet,” he said.

Most of the books that are checked out are for classes in some way, sophomore finance major and library assistant Scott Savage said.

“People check out a lot of books to use as research references,” Savage said. “There’s also a lot of fiction and children’s books checked out, but it’s mostly for class. From what I have seen there are not many people that check out books for pleasure reading.”

Students who do decide to use the library to find pleasure reading may have some trouble finding a good contemporary read, however.

“Currently in my backpack, I have plays by Tom Stoppard and Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses,’ sophomore chemistry major Dylan Nguyen said. “You can reliably find classics, but you may have trouble finding other contemporary books unless they are relevant to a specific course.”

In contrast to the relatively low number of checkouts, the library sees an average of 3,475 students every day, according to the library’s door count, done daily by library staff.

“I usually study in the biology building, but I like going to the library cafe at 7 a.m. right when it opens — it’s quiet in the early morning and there’s coffee,” sophomore biology major Kajal Shah said.

Students at the College find their way to the library to do homework and study when it becomes distracting to do work in their rooms or if they want to be around people.

“Normally when it’s too loud in my dorm, I’ll come to study,” freshman journalism major Beth Strumpf said.

Strumpf explained that she only checks out a book from the library about once a semester and feels that most students are underutilizing the resources available to them.

“(Students) can also check out markers, headphones, ethernet cables and a laptop that comes in a case with a charger and ethernet cable,” Savage said.

These items are in addition to media items such as DVDs and music.

These unconventional loans are even less frequent than book rentals. According to library checkout data, a total of 1,828 DVDs were rented in the 2012-2013 academic year, as well as 1,183 laptops, 1,943 Ethernet cables and 1,246 sets of headphones. This is compared to the 31,206 books checked out during the same academic year.

While many of the College’s books may stay put on their shelves, the library still plays an important role as a destination for studying, seeing friends and escaping from campus distractions.

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