MIT Libraries Lays Off Staff, Plans to Close Two Branches

Facing Institute-mandated budget cuts, the MIT Libraries are planning to close two branch libraries, Lindgren Library, which serves the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Department, and the Aeronautics and Astronautics Library. Some staff have received advance notice of layoffs or hour reductions that will take effect at the end of the fiscal year.

According to a Libraries staffer who asked to remain anonymous for lack of explicit permission to speak with the press, around 15 to 20 MIT Libraries staff members may be affected by the budget cuts: six people are to be laid off and the others face diminished hours or pay. The layoffs were not limited to just the closing libraries, but also affected the Institute Archives, Acquisitions and Licensing Services and Rotch Library. Some staffers were offered transfers to other libraries.

The source also said that there would be other cuts in the MIT Libraries’ budget as they face an Institute-mandated eighteen percent budget cut over the next three years, six percent each year.

MIT has publicly announced that it aims to cut the overall Institute budget by 15 percent.

In an e-mail to The Tech, Heather Denny, the MIT Libraries Communications Officer, said “the Libraries are facing budget reductions as part of the Institute-wide mandate to reduce General Institute Budget expenditures” in the next fiscal year.

Ann Wolpert, Director of Libraries, could not be reached for comment before this article’s publication date. And saying it was “premature to issue a statement,” Denny was also unable to give specific details and could not confirm the layoffs.

Ian A. Waitz, Course XVI Department Head, met with Wolpert and Steven Gass, the Libraries’ Director of Public Services, yesterday morning to discuss the possibility that the Aero-Astro library would be closed.

As he learned in the discussion, Waitz said the two libraries, Aero-Astro and Lindgren, were identified as “having very low people per hour rate” and therefore the Libraries are “trying to identify other ways” to offer those services.

At yesterday’s meeting, Waitz said he shared his view about what “critical services” students needed, while the Libraries talked about the resource constraints they were facing. “There still seems to be a lot of flexibility,” said Waitz. He added that future meetings to discuss more options were planned.

In an email to students working in the library, Aero-Astro librarian Barbara A. Williams informed them the Libraries would have to close both the Aero-Astro and Lindgren branches. According to Williams’ email, the Libraries will need to merge the two branches’ “collections and services with the Engineering and Science Libraries, respectively.”

Slightly before closing time at 6 p.m. last night, the Aero-Astro library was mostly empty. A student working the desk, Janelle L. Fouché ’11, said the library gets busy between two and four p.m. She said about “ten people per hour” come to the library, but many just “come in and out” to check out books on reserve for their classes.

Outside the empty library, there were about fifteen Course XVI students studying and doing problem sets in the neighboring lounge. When this reporter approached one table of students to ask them questions, most seemed unaware that their department’s library may be closing. When asked how often they used the library, one said he had a couple of books checked out. Another student, a sophomore in Course XVI, Mary E. Knapp 11 said she “never” used the library. But she was “very unhappy” about the closing of Lindgren since it was a quiet place to study.

Meanwhile at the Lindgren Library, a little after 6 p.m., two hours before closing, there were three students studying at desks along the windows.

One of the students, Udaya B. Gunturu G, a graduate student in EAPS, said he “uses this library very much.” In his sixth year, Gunturu has spent about “ten hours a week” at the library over that time.

Christine Sherratt, Lindgren Librarian, said the library was usually busiest “in the afternoon.”

Students were informed of Lindgren possibly closing or restricting hours by EAPS department head, Maria T. Zuber, who forwarded an e-mail she had received from the Libraries to students “a couple of weeks ago,” said Gunturu.

Zuber told The Tech in an e-mail: “Lindgren Library is a key element of the intellectual fiber of our Department.” And while she said it was too early to tell the “full extent of the loss,” the department’s “scholarly endeavors will take a major hit.”

“We are worried,” said Gunturu. “We can get books everywhere”, but “we also need maps and data … and it’s difficult to get this in electronic format.”

Pointing to a row of map cabinets at the back of the library, Gunturu said the “maps are huge” and that reading them on a small laptop screen is difficult. The library had both a map room and several cabinets with hundreds of drawers of geological maps, and maps with geophysical and atmospheric data, among other types.

Sherratt said there are roughly 30,000 maps in the Libraries collection, according to statistics pulled together last summer. She was uncertain whether this number also included a collection of topographic maps in Hayden Library.

The maps are “very specialized,” said Gunturu, and “the resources are very important for research in this field.”

MIT Libraries consists of five large libraries, four specialized branches, and the Institute Archives. Lindgren Library recently celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary.

Nick Bushak contributed to the reporting of this article.