One Simmons library renovations disrupt fall semester for students and library staff


Photo courtesy of Simmons University

Sarah Carlon, Editor-in-Chief

This piece was aired on episode 6 of the Simmons Voice and Simmons Radio: The Shark’s podcast Welcome Home. Click here to listen.

It wasn’t until logging onto Facebook that graduate history student Laura Rose Koch found out that her entire semester was about to change. 

She saw two fellow graduate students share a petition in the Simmons’ history History Facebook group urging Beatley Library to reinstate inter-library loans and expand ebook access– Koch had no idea the library had suspended these services.

“I was really shocked,” Koch said. 

In an October 6 email sent to faculty, Vivienne Piroli, Beatley Library director, announced that the library would temporarily suspend inter-library loan for physical books, processing of requests to borrow or purchase books, and faculty scanning from the course reserves. 

“The Library and Archives anticipate moving to an interim space on campus later this fall for the duration of the renovation project. This space will accommodate the Library Course Reserves collection and limited Archives collections,” the email from Piroli read.All other library collections are currently being packed and moved off-site. These materials will be inaccessible until the spring of 2022.”

Piroli also announced that Simmons students would be able to access a 200,000 ebook collection in the absence of the physical library.

This suspension was due to the library moving its collection off-site in line with the One Simmons project, a comprehensive overhaul of Simmons’ academic and residence campuses. The library, previously housed in the Lefavour building, is now temporarily sharing space with the university archives in Management 501 and 502. Once the One Simmons Project is completed, the Library will be housed in the Main College Building. 

Koch is working on her Masters thesis about medical reform in the Antebellum period this semester, a topic she had decided on before the beginning of the school year. She wasn’t sure how she was going to be able to do her research without physical books.

“There is such a difference between humanities and sciences,” Koch explained. “In the sciences, an electronic textbook is a good replacement, but in a discipline like history, you need the physical source in your hands.”

The petition that alerted Koch to these changes, signed by 33 dual-degree graduate students, expressed students’ frustration and anger around the sudden changes to the library and the lack of communication to students.

Caleb Simone, a second-year dual-degree library science and history masters student, was one of the students who coordinated the petition, although he emphasized the collaborative nature of the letter.

Simone heard about the changes at the library from history and women and gender studies professor Laura Prieto, and was as shocked as Koch. He had written his own personal letter about the changes to Prieto, but wondered whether a student-written and endorsed letter would have a bigger impact than his individual one.

“Our professors and the administration want to do everything in their power to help us succeed,” Simone said. “I wanted to let them know, hey, this is what we need to succeed.”

The letter outlined the frustration of the students, and included several demands: 

-Immediate reinstatement of InterLibrary Loan 

-Pre-paid postage for all materials that need to be returned to Simmons 

-Expanded access to resources to support student research

-A commitment to transparent and timely communication about all future changes to the library.

“There can be no graduate level work without access to graduate level resources,” the petition read. “It is of particular concern for those students conducting independent research and for History students preparing to write their theses. These unannounced policy changes threaten their ability to complete requirements in a satisfactory and timely manner.”  

The petition also noted the poor timing of these disruptions, as many graduate students were still deciding on their thesis topic in October, needing the library’s services more than ever. 

“I’m not writing a thesis, but I can’t imagine how stressful this had been for people writing theses,” Simone said. “Academics take years and years and years to write their pieces, but our semester is only three and a half months long, so it’s this really packed time period to produce something we want to really be proud of.

According to Simone, the letter “spread like wildfire.”

“Within 24 hours we heard back from most of the people we sent it to and the overall message was thank you for telling us what you need,” he said. “We were getting emails that they were talking about it at SLIS [School of Library and Information Science] West, and it’s in all of these meetings.”

When Piroli received the petition, she said she took time to sit with it and brainstorm solutions.

“I took some time to work with the library staff and think about how we can move up some of our timelines; get some of these activities and services back a little quicker,” Piroli told the Voice.

She gave full credit to the library staff, several of whom came on-campus to help speed up the moving process and reinstate the essential services. 

Piroli also recognized the poor timing of the move, but noted that they were working under an exit date decided by the One Simmons project managers. The library staff was given a week’s notice before the movers arrived in mid-October to move Beatley’s 160,000 volume collection off-site.

“Moving house is a big job,” Piroli said. “Moving a library is exponentially harder and has many more moving parts. We are also just one piece of One Simmons, and we have to fit into the phasing of all of the other moving parts [of the project.]”

Simone commended the library and archives administration for an “appreciative and respectful dialogue,” and noted how quickly InterLibrary Loan was back in operation, which was a focal point of the grad student letter.

“I think on the really urgent fronts we felt very heard,” he said. “I don’t want to say that I didn’t expect them to do anything, but it seems like everyone who got that letter said ok, got it, we’re going to talk about this in a very serious way. So I think we all felt respected. Respect is not just being quiet when people make decisions, but communicating what you need.”

Jason Wood, university archivist, echoed this sentiment.

“The best way to get help from a librarian or an archivist is to reach out to a librarian or archivist,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for.”