Vermont State University Gets Rid of Physical Library for Digital-Only, Despite Protests



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Northern Vermont University, Castleton University, and Vermont Technical College are consolidating into one university, Vermont State University, by July 1st. As part of the consolidation, administrators announced they will be donating most of the library’s physical collection in favor of a digital-only library and repurposing the library building.

At a forum on Friday, students showed up to protest the change, carrying signs reading “We tried online learning. We hated it. #BooksNotBots” and “Don’t Tread On Our Library”. Some students argued that digital-only resources were inaccessible to many students with disabilities that make it harder to read on screens.

One second-year nursing student, Connor Murphy, said, “Constantly doing your homework online, reading online, everything being online — it’d be a complete disassociation from reality. And it’s just so obnoxious.” Many said this decision would make them consider transferring to another school.

Administrators apologized for the way the decision was communicated, announced late in the day, but they will not be changing course. They said the decision came as a result of a student survey that said most students were satisfied with digital-only resources. Of the 5,500 students attending, only about 10% answered the survey.

University president Parwinder Grewal said, “If more than 500 students could have responded, maybe we would have made a different decision.”

A second year history major, Haley Agan, responded, “We get hundreds of emails a day. We don’t have time to read them all. And if we did open it, it definitely was not titled, ‘You need to take this survey to save your library.’”

Allison Fiske, a nursing major, raised concerns that digital materials are easier to ban or quietly remove: “It’s also scary because we’re in the age of book bannings, and protests and all these things going on. And all it would take is, instead of having hard copies that can be passed around, whoever’s in control can just decide ‘we’re going to delete this file’ and that book’s no longer available to the students. And that’s a really terrible thought, that they have that sort of control.”

Charlotte Gerstein, a reference and instruction librarian at Castleton, said librarians felt “betrayed” by the decision, and, “I think it was kind of a miscalculation on the part of the administration – thinking that a library is just the things on the shelf. It has meaning beyond just the individual books sitting on the shelf. It’s symbolic. And it represents knowledge and culture and history and our connections to other humans. There’s meaning there.”

The switch to a digital-only library will eliminate seven full-time jobs and three part-time jobs.

Read more about this story at VTDigger and Castleton Spartan.

Find more news and stories of interest from the book world in Breaking in Books.