Opinion

Lego of our books: on entrepreneurship and library space

Macalester recently announced its intention to convert the second floor of the library into an “entrepreneurship space.” I am saddened by this decision, but not surprised. Macalester administrators dote on trustees and donors while leaving student needs unmet. The repurposing of library space is no exception.

The library is not an entrepreneurship space. Administrators and librarians would do well to remember this. Libraries enhance public knowledge with no regard for profit; entrepreneurs create private profit with little regard for public knowledge. A handful of Macalester students and administrators may be redefining entrepreneurship as a means for public good, but the term is still closely tied to wealth creation­—which has little place in the library. In a Mac Weekly article last week, a library employee declared, “We used to be about storing books, storing information, but we’re no longer about that because so much has changed.” What exactly has changed? Why is the hub of campus intellectual life setting aside thousands of square feet for startup incubation?

If this proposal passes, the second floor will lose books. Literature will be shoved aside in favor of Google Cardboard. Admittedly, some of these books will be moved to the basement, but that does not excuse the removal of other editions. One librarian stated that these decisions will be based on each book’s patronage statistics. However, just because a book has not been checked out in a few years does not mean it has no future use. Student interests vary year to year; new professors teach different kinds of classes; and certain publications fall in and out of favor. This is especially true for fiction, which is located on the endangered floor. Why would a library refuse to support the literary enthusiasms of future patrons? Tuition and donation dollars should fund books, computers, printing supplies, and other essential resources. Not Legos.

An entrepreneurship space already exists in Markim Hall. A recent Mac Weekly article failed to mention that the existing space is rarely used. Multiple Markim student workers have confirmed this. If few people take advantage of an existing entrepreneurship space, why does there need to be a larger version of the same space? Can administrators provide a better reason than a lack of natural light? At the very least, they owe students an explanation.

Macalester has many immediate needs. Student housing is overflowing, performance spaces are inadequate, Olin-Rice is facing a room shortage, mental health resources are stretched thin and summer internships are scarcely funded. Yet Macalester entrepreneurship is flush with financial and political capital. Does a non-academic program need a second new space in two years? There are existing opportunities for students to get their entrepreneurship fix, which are all amply funded. Macathon even offers $4,500 in cash prizes. As enticing as the library floor proposal may be for a businessperson on the Board of Trustees, to many loan-stricken students, it is unnecessary.

In his correspondences with the student body, President Brian Rosenberg has reiterated Macalester’s core values, the first of which is “intellectual rigor.” The usurping of library space contradicts this purported value.

March 24, 2017

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