Don’t close libraries: They are part of us

Many libraries dedicated to the humanities and social sciences — including S/SEAL — represent a celebration of specific histories, cultures and scholarships of underrepresented communities.

Illustration of a cobweb-ridden library book behind criss-cross Caution tape.
Bridget Long/Staff

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Libraries are an indispensable resource to campus students — they hold history, rare academic resources and are welcoming community spaces for all. As opposed to crowded dorms or noisy cafes, libraries are often a quiet oasis for students to study and refocus. With the temporary closure of Moffitt Library and the recent student and staff sit-in protesting the planned closure of the Anthropology Library, the frequent threat of losing such spaces is a disservice to students who rely on them.

The initial announcement that the Anthropology Library would be closing beginning Feb. 28 elicited a strong response from approximately 40 students and staff: an organized sit-in that gained support throughout the afternoon of Feb. 25. Hours prior to the sit-in, students and staff discussed tactics to apply pressure on campus administrators. To the relief of many, anthropology department chair Charles Hirschkind and social sciences Dean Raka Ray announced that the Anthropology Library would remain open 15 minutes before the sit-in’s formal start. Students are working together, still, to ensure the Anthropology Library is consistently occupied to demonstrate their solidarity.

This response to the closure only demonstrates the essential role libraries continue to play in supporting student life and bolstering educational experience. Easy access to cultural, linguistic and archaeological primary sources is often only possible through the libraries that house them — these can be particularly important for ethnic studies students. Although such resources would still be available in other libraries, this cut could affect their accessibility.

While campus librarian Jeffrey MacKie-Mason stated all of the library’s patrons suffer from falling budgets, the disproportionate targeting of libraries under humanities and ethnic studies departments — as compared to STEM or business libraries — has been concerning.

Just last year in March 2021, the UC Berkeley Library proposed repurposing the South/Southeast Asia Library, or S/SEAL, as an administrative office. Many libraries dedicated to the humanities and social sciences — including S/SEAL — represent a celebration of specific histories, cultures and scholarships of underrepresented communities. They are not just housing ancient artifacts or dusty preservations of a lost civilization — they are a part of living, breathing and evolving cultures. It is a small claim of space for communities that are forced to engage in a constant battle for space within greater society.

Viewing these libraries as expendable in the grand scheme of budgeting reflects a fundamental undervaluing of ethnic studies and humanities departments at UC Berkeley, as well as the cultures they represent. Campus must ensure these spaces are adequately funded to prevent their threatened and actualized closure.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2022 opinion editor, Jessie Wu.