UC Berkeley announced that the Anthropology Library would be closing along with two others in a campuswide email Feb. 23 due to a lack of funding. The decision was met with student and faculty protest immediately after.
Campus’s Anthropology Library is currently one of only three in the nation, alongside Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, according to campus anthropology professor Terrence Deacon.
Many faculty members of the anthropology department were shocked by the announcement.
“Since much of the archival material produced by anthropologists will never be available in digital form it will effectively become inaccessible to future students and researchers,” Deacon said in an email. “(The Anthropology Library’s) loss will inevitably diminish the standing of the department and university because it will signal to the world that UCB is trading its intellectual mission for more immediately lucrative goals.”
Assistant anthropology professor Daena Funahashi’s immediate reaction to the news was also disbelief.
Funahashi expressed worries about rare and older books collected in the library.
“When it comes to knowledge, it’s not about use, or the frequency of use. We have it because we are a university. This is what universities do, produce and make available knowledge,” Funahashi said. “How do you determine what hasn’t been used enough? … I think that is unacceptable as the role of a university.”
Deacon maintained the opinion that it sends a signal about whether knowledge is or is not intrinsically valuable.
He said he believes campus must ask itself what signal it is sending to future generations of students, researchers and current faculty about what is of value.
Funahashi noted that a library is not just a place to check out books.
“It’s a place to be in community with others doing acts like reading, writing and research,” Funahashi said. “It’s a space for the community to come together doing otherwise very isolating work, because research can be very isolating, but the library provides that kind of space for everyone to come together for the sake of research, for the sake of thinking, for the sake of developing ideas. It’s communal.”
Some faculty members alleged inequities in funding in their arguments to keep the library.
Funahashi, for example, emphasized that more funding has been put toward athletics, hard sciences and data science in comparison to the UC Berkeley Library and campus humanities.
Campus history and anthropology professor James Vernon similarly said he believes that the closure is a symptom of the disinvestment in the campus library, which he pointed to as a decade-long trend.
Vernon cited the Cal Athletics budget, increased police budget and $300 million investment into a data science building as instances of campus providing funding to alternatives for the library.
“There is a reason why everybody is pointing to athletics as an obvious poor choice for the use of all of that money, when the library is obviously the beating heart of research and teaching on our campus, whereas the athletics program is just a drain upon those academic resources,” Vernon said.
The data science building in question is funded largely by a gift from an anonymous donor of $252 million; campus is working to raise an additional $300 million.
In the 2021-22 academic year, the UC Berkeley Library received $41.9 million from campus, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. In 2022, Cal Athletics received $30.9 million of institutional support from campus.
Mogulof noted, however, that this total for Cal Athletics includes an $11 million loan that will be paid back and a $2 million one-time add-on for COVID-19 relief, setting the true institutional support number for Cal Athletics at approximately $18 million for fiscal year 2022.
Campus anthropology professor Christine Hastorf, who is also director of the Archaeological Research Facility, said she was devastated upon hearing of the library’s closure. Hastrof cited the library’s unique access to Andean information that is only found at UC Berkeley as an example of its value to anthropology research efforts on campus.
“Shutting libraries should be the last resort, not the first resort,” Hastrof said.