In response to the campus closure of the Anthropology Library as part of the Berkeley Library Long Term Space Plan, students and faculty organized a town hall and overnight occupation of the Anthropology Library Wednesday.
In a campus-wide email Thursday, campus released the long-term plan, which highlights upcoming changes to library services. According to the plan, the Anthropology Library will be merged with the Main Gardner Stacks Library by January 2024.
The town hall featured testimonies from students and faculty about the closing and the ways in which they would be negatively impacted by a library closure. Associate Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences Leonardo Arriola also attended and took comments and questions from town hall participants.
Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore stated in an email that the sit-in has been peaceful, and campus administrators are communicating with demonstrators to work towards a resolution.
Many, including consumer advocate Ralph Nader, argued that UC Berkeley has “one of the top” anthropology libraries in the U.S..
“Just from the inside of looking at anthropology as a discipline, to think about the idea that it could be, one day, monopolized by private universities – that’s an existential threat to our discipline,” said Ian Molloy, Berkeley undergraduate anthropology student and demonstrator. “It’s important to recognize that this library is incredibly important to the future of anthropology and the study of people and of cultures, which is constantly evolving.”
The Anthropology Library currently hosts around 59,000 print volumes of research, which, under the new plan, will be placed in Main Stacks.
Anthropology students and faculty are concerned about other ways in which this closure will impact their learning and teaching experiences, their accessibility to research and their mental health.
“This is the space where people come to relax, to make friends, to access resources, but also just to get to know each other as a community,” said campus undergraduate anthropology student Sofia Abolfathi. “And so losing this is basically losing the heart of the entire department. Really, it’s devastating.”
Gilmore said in the email the decision to merge the Anthropology Library comes from a decrease in funding for the campus libraries that has been occurring over the past 20 years. Subsequently, with fewer resources, the Anthropology Library has had to reduce services.
She added that despite these changes, library services will “continue to support research in the diverse fields of anthropology,” noting that volumes from the Anthropology Library that are in regular use will still be accessible in Main Gardner Stacks.
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Laura Nader stated that the underlying issue is a “misplacement of priorities.”
“We have the space, it’s being used for a library,” Nader said. “And it’s not a question of money. It’s a question of priorities.”
The Anthropology Library has been facing controversy over cutbacks for around a decade, beginning with efforts by campus in 2012 to reduce hours. Gilmore noted that the Anthropology Library had been completely closed in the past due to staff shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Student and faculty demonstrators alleged that the Anthropology Library has not been “fully functioning” for a long time.
Abolfathi noted that cutbacks in hours and staff have also impacted students’ ability to access materials and receive assistance with research.
“This has been a decade-long battle,” Abolfathi said. “This is a continued fight. This is going to happen to every single specialized library eventually. It’s a very, very slippery slope and it’s not looking great for our university.”
Various campus libraries have closed over the past seven years, including the Education and Psychology Library, the Public Health Library and the Optometry Library, as listed in Gilmore’s email.
In the upcoming plan, the Physics-Astronomy and the Mathematics and Statistics Libraries will also be merging.
The Long Term Space Plan set forth by campus suggested that departments like Anthropology submit their own plans for how they would like their closed spaces to be re-allocated to the Space Allocation and Capital Improvements committee.
“If this library closes, the effects of that on future studies, let alone us and my class, it’s going to be bad. They are not going to know what they’re missing,” Molloy said. “As long as there are people there are going to be anthropologists.”