March 16, 2018

Another day, another fight against the capitalist machine: UW-Madison offers up a plan to “consolidate” libraries, remove millions of books


According to a recent story on Madison, Wisconsin’s community radio station WORT-FM, the University of Wisconsin—Madison is proposing a consolidation of over twenty of its libraries, which could involve the removal of over two million books from their current, three-million-book stacks. The two million would be moved off campus.

While university administrators and faculty are still very much at the planning stage, it’s not hard to foresee where this idea will lead. The two camps are already diverging: those who think this is a necessary step that will not interfere with the school’s dedication to research, and those who see it as a threat to the sanctity of higher education and the humanities at large.

The WORT News Desk, and journalist Nina Kravinsky, spoke to both faculty and staff. French professor Ullrich Langer sees his department as a clear target:

“What we’re looking at is the core of humanities and arts and some social sciences collections being moved off site and losing access to the open stacks collection,” Langer says. “Much of our research depends on being able to get to books very quickly and being able to browse very extensively.”

Vice Provost for Libraries Ed Van Gemert is taking a more pragmatic, if uncomfortable, view. “The books they would target would be mainly duplicate and foreign language copies. They’ll focus on books that see little to no use in the libraries,” he explains.

According to the report, “UW-Madison has one of the largest book collections in North America, as well as one of the largest open stacks collections in the continent.” These efforts in consolidation are primarily driven by the need for more student workspace and renovations throughout campus buildings.

Tension have been building among college administrators and faculty for years. Particularly in a state like Wisconsin, governed by union-busting tyrant Scott Walker (who’s had it out for the UW system since forever), it’s sad to see these attacks, targeting not just libraries and institutional knowledge, but also the humanities in general.

The University of Wisconsin is hardly alone — these days, even the most haloed of libraries are feeling well-financed pressures! Our own Scott Sherman chronicles the fight to protect the New York Public Library from moneyed interests in Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, And The Fight To Save A Public Library. And a number of the activist who helped usher in that victory checked in with us a couple years later, to share their observations on what it took to win, and how those lessons might be used in the future. Just food for thought.



Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.