University Library proposes changes to South/Southeast Asian Library, campus community voices concerns

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Maya Valluru/Staff
A petition aiming to “Save the South/Southeast Asia Library at UC Berkeley” has collected 3,939 signatures as of press time. The petition was created in response to a call for public comment on a proposal aiming to institute certain changes in the library, which is the smallest one on campus.

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The University Library issued a call for public comment on its proposal for changes to the South/Southeast Asia Library, or S/SEAL, resulting in the UC Berkeley community expressing various concerns toward the proposed changes.

A majority of S/SEAL’s collection is currently kept in other libraries and UC facilities. Of the 6,400 materials in the library’s collection, 2,700 also have possible duplicates in other locations on campus, according to the call for comment.

One of the changes proposed is the integration of the periodicals and reference collection in S/SEAL with Doe Library’s complementary collections, according to Elizabeth Dupuis, senior associate university librarian and director of Doe Library, Moffitt Library and the subject specialty libraries.

“The Library is a complex and dynamic organism that aspires to support the campus’s broad and deep academic interests while adapting to the changing needs of our users and dealing with space constraints,” Dupuis said in an email. “Overall, campus is pressed to continue to reevaluate all spaces in order to serve the teaching and learning needs of today’s students and faculty.”

Following the call for public comment, faculty, alumni, graduate and undergraduate students of the South and Southeast Asian studies department are advocating through the call for comment and are signing a petition to “Save the South/Southeast Asia Library at UC Berkeley.” As of press time, 3,939 signatures have been added.

The space that S/SEAL currently occupies will be repurposed, according to Paula Varsano, chair of the South and Southeast Asian studies department.

Virginia Shih and Adnan Malik, the librarian-curators for S/SEAL, will no longer be “overseeing a study space,” Dupuis said in the email. The changes will give Shih and Malik time to focus on “services, programs and projects,” Dupuis added.

The space, according to Dupuis, will be instead used by the metadata and acquisitions units, which are being relocated from their previous location in Moffitt Library to create space for a Center for Connected Learning.

“This unit is permanently moving out of Moffitt Library’s second floor to make way for the expansion of spaces available to Berkeley students for extended hours, and to support improved areas for classes, research, collaboration and study,” Dupuis said in the email.

S/SEAL is not the first library to face integration or change, according to Dupuis, who, along with the call for comment, cited the “few patrons on a daily basis” as another reason for alterations to the smallest library on campus.

Students, faculty and alumni, however, have objected to the changes on the grounds that separating the collection from the librarians and curators — including Shih, a renowned curator and librarian in the field — will impact students and researchers. This is due to the number of languages and specialized materials available in the library, according to Varsano.

“This is really a treasure that we have, and its physical coherence in one space is essential to its functionality,” Varsano said. “Separating, which is also in the proposal, the curators, the librarians, who have specialized, who have procured these works, who have organized them … is incredibly detrimental to the functionality of the collection.”

Current and former undergraduate and graduate students have also noted the importance of the space itself for both events and diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.

Rose Schweis, a campus senior in the South and Southeast Asian studies department, said she transferred to UC Berkeley to study in the department and utilize the resources it has, including S/SEAL.

“This small but very significant physical space does so much more than that. It brings together community,” Schweis said. “We must protect these specialized resources for communities that are marginalized and need it.”

Dupuis noted the importance of libraries as “community-building spaces” for the groups they serve and as sites for events and celebrations.

Additionally, Dupuis reiterated the University Library’s goal of fostering inclusion and a welcoming atmosphere and spaces on campus.

“Addressing this important topic in partnership with campus groups, including students who have already shared their initial thoughts, could lead us to some wonderful new ideas,” Dupuis said in the email.

Touching on the next steps of the proposal, Dupuis encourages community input through the comment procedure as the “process has just begun.” However, students and faculty said the proposal and call for comment was a surprise and questioned the lack of public input in the process.

Comments on the call for comment will be accepted until April 9.

Jasper Sundeen is a general assignment reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JasperS_ports.