What if I told you that all Yale input — from faculty, students and staff — on the Bass Library renovation project has been blatantly ignored for the past two years? Or that the project’s conclusion was decided from the start? Well, it’s true. If students don’t speak up, Bass will be closed for all of the next fall semester — and its collection will drop from 150,000 to 40,000 books.

In February 2017, University Librarian Susan Gibbons said in an interview with the News that “the Bass project will occur over the summer months so as not to displace students from Bass,” but plans have since changed drastically. It’s not clear how the decision to remove two-thirds of books was reached, or that library leaders have ever been interested in feedback on how to increase seating with minimal academic distraction.

At last week’s community meeting on the renovation project — deceptively described as a “conversation” — only library leaders were allowed to have their voices recorded, allowing administrators to “reinterpret” and water down the audience’s unanimous criticism during the Q&A.

A similar deceit took place in 2017, when only students who agreed with book-reduction plans were asked to sit on the committee in charge of developing the project. Student and faculty criticisms were then ignored at the public forums held on the renovation in 2018. Administrators have instead chosen to rely solely on the vacuous, pseudo-scientific report on library usage created by Nancy Fried Foster, an anthropologist without Yale connections who is driving this project without a care for those who actually live and work here.

Ironically, Foster has written an entire book on library spaces with a chapter titled “Designing Academic Libraries with the People Who Work in Them.” Meanwhile, her “ethnographic” study on Bass included only FIVE in-depth student interviews, with the bulk of her data coming from random observations across a single week in the term. Even if you don’t care about libraries, books or Bass, you should be worried that the intellectual direction of our library system has been hijacked by an outsider whose work wouldn’t even pass an introductory-level college seminar.

Yet Foster is no stranger to Gibbons, the head of the Yale library system. The two worked together at the University of Rochester, where they co-authored a major book in the field of library studies that reflects exactly the sort of reductive thinking that has gone into the Bass renovation project. They begin with the oh-so elusive question, “What do students really do when they write their research papers?” describing the process as if it were a precious secret, “…a black box that largely concealed the processes undertaken by the student.”

If the leader of one of the world’s largest research libraries doesn’t know how to write a paper, how can she understand the crucial relationship of books to education? Ask any Yale senior with writing experience, and they’ll tell you that physical browsing is not an antiquated novelty but central to the research process. I’ve found several of my best books for papers through serendipitous browsing in Bass. Administrators argue that the “browsing experience” can be preserved in Sterling Memorial Library, but just imagine a first year facing down the towering stacks as their introduction to library research This project has consistently ignored the original function of Bass, which is to serve as a more accessible way for undergraduates to approach a research question in its initial stages — or, dare I say, find books for fun.

Sterling, in contrast, should remain a preserve of special collections, such as the Yale Class Books, where I’ve stumbled upon treasures like a personal copy of Emerson’s Essays owned by Benjamin Silliman Jr., class of 1837. Imagine old Yalies thumbing through the same tomes, sneaking pencil annotations into the margins — oh wait, you can’t, because these precious relics are now being shipped to off-campus storage to make room for the newly culled Bass collection. In fact, the emptying of the two floors of Yale Class Books began two years ago, before renovation plans were even announced. Obviously, major book reduction has been in the works since the beginning.

It’s no revelation that students overwhelmingly choose computers over bookshelves. And I don’t blame them; as greater numbers of books are sent offsite, it becomes far more convenient to sit with a laptop than reference the shelves. If renovation funds were redirected toward the maintenance and promotion of collections that reflected Yale’s courses, surely more students would prefer books to staring at their screens all day or dropping hundreds of dollars at the bookstore each semester. It’s not that students increasingly neglect books; it’s that students can’t learn to appreciate books in a library already neglected by its administrators.

Gibbons’ new vision for the modern university library isn’t merely a means of saving space. If it were, University officials would have considered library usage a legitimate issue when they proposed an undergraduate expansion. Instead, Gibbons hopes to legitimize an anti-book culture within University life. Of course she and her ilk have ignored the Yale community for two years on this issue. After all, nothing should stand in the way of “solving” the problem of shrinking circulation numbers and preserving the “innovative,” salary-boosting work of top administrators.

I urge any student concerned about the renovation to directly voice your complaints to University President Peter Salovey and other upper-level, non-librarian management. It’s time for us to reject a Bass-less Yale brought about by baseless claims.

Leland Stange is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at leland.stange@yale.edu .

  • RemedialArgumentation

    I’m surprised the YDN would publish Mr. Stange’s strangely virulent and rebarbative opinion piece openly attacking a member of the Yale community (Gibbons) and a scholar (Dr. Foster), both of whom have proven their scholarly merits through publications. Mr. Stange, who yet lacks any sort of academic credentials, should revisit his writing classes and perhaps have a lesson in remedial argumentation. First, he cherry picks evidence from Gibbons’ writing, ignoring most of her argumentation to find a quotation that fits his narrative when used out context (this would need to be revised in English 114, a class Stange may want to take). Second, Stange’s move to discredit the scholars’ credentials is odd given that he himself has no major publications, while the two women are well known for their publications in their fields. Third, Stange has a deep misunderstanding of research if he finds his “best” (whatever that means in this context) books in Bass, which has a limited selection of titles; Stange would be better served by analyzing webs citation and who is talking to whom rather than grabbing books off a shelf of Bass (when he should be looking in Sterling with its deeper coverage of topics). Fourth, Stange has a low opinion of his Yale colleagues if he believes that a first-year can’t be taught to navigate “the towering stacks.” Fifth, Stange misrepresents the movement of these books; there will still be a large collections of books in Bass for undergraduates to use.
    Mr. Stange should take the time to research the library science literature on the use of library spaces, which suggests that Gibbons’ ideas are sound, especially given the growth of Yale and changes in how books are used. I realize that my comment is somewhat harsh, but Mr. Stange should expect these sorts of replies if he makes such a virulent argument attacking the credentials of women who have had decades more experience than he in academia.

    • mahood

      Kinda overwritten there, bud.

      The real problem is that Gibbons went to a coauthor for a study — a fact which makes its conclusions questionable and untrustworthy. Maybe that proves that the library science you tout isn’t actually a science, since one could never get away with this in science. Me, a person with many years of experience in libraries and in universities, and with a whole lotta referred publications, I admire Stange.

      • RemedialArgumentation

        It’s questionable that you would admire a piece of writing like this that makes no use of outside sources to support its argument. It’s absolutely absurd that you think a coauthor calls into question the validity of someone’s writing; anybody who has actually published anything knows that coauthored studies are common in many, many disciplines. Library Science is a social science and makes use of quantitative and qualitative studies; there are scores of PhD granting programs for it across the country and these programs are endorsed by the ALA.

        So, kind of underwritten there, bud. You’re going to need to show which parts you support of Stange’s argument and which ones you think are backed up by data beyond an affection for paper books.

  • Josiah Gibbs

    “the intellectual direction of our library system has been hijacked by an outsider” Really YDN?

    • Nancy Morris

      🍆☮️⛎♌️♑️Where Bass is concerned it appears no prose is too purple for the Yale Daily News.🍇💜🕉🚺

      ♒️♍️♈️🕎Look, we are talking about people who just ran a screed comparing removal of vitrines from the Sterling nave to the Holocaust.☪️♑️♌️⛎ If one stomped one’s foot in the YDN offices, the rattle of loose screws would be deafening.🔯✝️⚛️♐️♋️

  • 123456qwerty

    What a bore that librarian is. You can look at Gibbons and tell she’s unhappy or uncaring or unbothered.

    • Nancy Morris

      That is a truly disgraceful, nasty comment. It contributes nothing. It is wrong. It would constitute judging a book by its cover, except that it gets even the cover wrong. And it suggests that you are a shallow, bitter person far more than it makes any relevant criticism of Gibbons. Is that what you wished to convey?

      You can talk to Gibbons, if you have ever bothered, and tell she is a sophisticated professional with an intense interest in libraries, broadly defined and relevant to modern needs and the university’s missions, and a genuinely nice human being. Regardless of whether one agrees with her, she is making a good faith, highly intelligent effort to address a genuine need, and your personal nastiness is entirely reprehensible.

      You should be ashamed of yourself and delete your comment. Now.

  • Nancy Morris

    “Ask any Yale senior with writing experience, and they’ll tell you that physical browsing is not an antiquated novelty but central to the research process. I’ve found several of my best books for papers through serendipitous browsing in Bass.“

    Has the author actually asked every Yale senior with writing experience (whatever that is) about these things? If not, on what basis does she claim to know their minds as she does?

    “Central to THE research process?” Does the author imagine that there is ONE research process, or that every student at Yale with writing experience (or even most or many of them) employs the same or similar research process that she does? Given the quality of the research in this article, one very much hopes that is not so. One especially hopes that “the research process” at Yale does not depend on or even involve making unsupported claims as to what any member of some unsurveyed group of very heterogeneous people would say about a complex subject without any support other than a “serendipitous” anecdote. That is not “the research process.” That’s ignorant, pretentious ranting.

    And why would anyone think that whether browsing is “an antiquated novelty” is a key question here, or even a particularly meaningful one? The author’s personal anecdote of serendipitously finding several books while browsing Bass does not significantly support her representing what “any Yale student with writing experience” would say, still less determine the proper renovation of Bass Library. To say that this article lacks nuance is an understatement.

    And there’s this:

    “Administrators have instead chosen to rely solely on the vacuous, pseudo-scientific report on library usage created by Nancy Fried Foster, an anthropologist without Yale connections who is driving this project without a care for those who actually live and work here.”

    The author is of course entitled to her views. But by what credential, experience or expertise does she credibly claim that Ms. Foster’s report is “vacuous” and “pseudo-scientific?” (I write that without implying that the report is or is not correct.) And the confident claim that Ms. Foster is “driving this project without a care for those who actually live and work here” not only lacks all support, but I am at a loss how the author could even pretend to such knowledge short of telepathy. Is making claims based on no relevant credentials, experience or expertise, or on apparent telepathy, part of “the research process?”

    Similarly, it is hard to read the claims here that “Gibbons hopes to legitimize an anti-book culture within University life” and that she is motivated by self-serving “salary-boosting” as anything other than base, unsupported defamation, unless there is more telepathy involved.

    This article opens with a broadside: “What if I told you that all Yale input — from faculty, students and staff — on the Bass Library renovation project has been blatantly ignored for the past two years? Or that the project’s conclusion was decided from the start?” Nothing adduced here supports the claim that all such input has been “blatantly ignored” or that “the project’s conclusion was decided from the start.” If the author knows of evidence supporting such claims why does she not describe that evidence?

    The proposed renovation of Bass may or may not be optimal or appropriate. I do not claim such expertise. And the YDN is entitled to oppose that renovation. But this rant has not advanced its case. More the contrary.

  • ldffly

    The article is very good, but I have a question. Why are you, why is anybody, surprised by this? Pres. Levin set in motion the administrative expansion. Libraries for librarians and libraries with a minimum of books are entirely consistent with that.