Rising Concern about Struggling Library

The announcement of the Board of Trustees meeting in June to suspend the operations of the college sparked another series of serious staff cuts. It has left the remaining members of the college staff and faculty scrambling to cover workloads far greater than in years past. In February, the struggling college already had to eliminate twenty non-faculty positions.

As Jill Becker, Associate Professor of Dance, mentioned at the open meeting of the Board of Trustees on Saturday, services such as housekeeping and security have been cut, as well as the hours of the Olive Kettering Library on campus. While the library was formerly open Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 11:00pm, staff cuts have reduced the available hours considerably. Students and faculty now have to do without the library in the evenings and Sundays.

Today, the library is staffed by four people -two librarians and two union workers. Debra Oswald, head librarian, is committed to keeping the library open for the students. For now, the library retains all of its services, albeit with more difficulty. “We’re still covering everything, but not as well as before,” Oswald noted. Certainly, the remaining library employees have been stretched to far greater duties than before, attempting to do what was a seven-person job with only four library staffers. “This whole library has become my office,” said Oswald as she helped a student.

The services, however, are not guaranteed. The contract date for OPAL, Antioch’s library catalogue is approaching, and Oswald is optimistic but not certain, that the Board will allow her to renew it. Already she is not allowed to purchase new books, though she notes that she wouldn’t know what to purchase even if she could. “What would my clientele be,” she asks. “Am I buying for an undergraduate liberal arts college? We don’t know.”

Students have quickly begun encountering reduced services throughout the campus, and returning students and new students alike are already finding conflicts with the library’s operating hours. Sandy Coulter, library assistant, is acutely aware of the difficulties students will face if they can’t make it to the library to study. “Students are upset,” she says. “Most of our students don’t start working until nine o’clock at night.” This is certainly a trend among college students nation-wide.

First year student Liz Luczyk was disappointed after visiting the library for the first time. “The hours are not at all conducive for my study habits,” she said, adding that she doesn’t like that they’re closed on Sunday.

But there is hope for Antioch students. “Do you want to hear how understaffed we are?” Steven Duffy exclaimed into the phone at his ear. “The president is going to be working in the library. Yeah, working the front desk. Isn’t that great?” Steve Lawry, the College President, has volunteered to help out at the library so that it might remain open longer. Faculty members such as Jill Becker and Dennie Eagleson are also planning to volunteer their time in the library.

“Everybody knows it’s untenable not to be open in the evening,” Eagleson exclaimed of the library during a photography class. This kind of dedication is the cornerstone of the Antioch experience. Faculty that care enough about their students’ studies to sacrifice their valuable free time to facilitate them are a rare commodity in a world of higher education dominated by rote lectures and disengaged learning.
Further, speaking at the Antioch Community Meeting on Tuesday, Judy Wohlert-Maldonado from the Village of Yellow Springs told the community that the entire village was upset by the fact that students’ access to the library was being limited. In response, Wohlert-Maldonado sent “a mass e-mail to alumni” across the country, calling for support. In addition to this, the next village council meeting will address the issue with an open call to recruit village members to volunteer in the library.

With the aid of the wider Antioch community, students will soon be able to take advantage of the full hours of the Olive Kettering Library. With its 325,000 volumes, the depth and breadth of knowledge available to students is extensive. Even for students who have no plan to use the library, like first-year Dustin Cornett, the resources available are undeniable. “It’s pretty big … compared to what I’m used to,” Cornett admitted.

Though the library’s future now seems at least slightly more secure, other areas of the college still remain understaffed. Some of these staff shortages will be cushioned when students begin to fill their Federal Work Study Program or Institutional Work Study positions. Regardless, this historic year for Antioch will doubtless be one of pinching and pushing in all areas of college operations.