When asked about the future of the university's main research library, Dean of Libraries Stanley Wilder said, “There is no hope for this building.”
As President Tate settles into his new role of digging the university out of financial and ethical ditches deeper than Kirby-Smith Hall is tall, he must prioritize the construction of a world-class library facility that meets the needs of the 21st century student.
Students have been promised a renovated library for years, yet all we have received are empty promises and $43,000 worth of new furniture on the first floor. In the COVID era, even our 24-hour access has been revoked to allow time for adequate sanitation.
These conditions persist four years after Gov. John Bel Edwards and leading state legislators toured the building in 2017 to take note of the dismal conditions. Upon seeing the water damage, outdated facilities and dirty floors, the governor stated, “we've got to do better."
Have we done any better?
When I talked to Wilder, he certainly didn’t feel like we prioritized the library or its collections.
Wilder admitted that while the facility is deplorable, it is the library's scholarship mission and collection funding that is truly suffering. "It’s a lot worse. The library is seriously under-resourced when it comes to collections,” he said.
He went on to note that we are behind our peer institutions in the Southeastern Conference, and we only continue to fall further behind.
In Tate’s first report to the university's Board of Supervisors, he emphasized his goal of supporting the world-class faculty teaching at the state's flagship university.
Yet, as Dean Wilder observed, the collections that LSU Library struggles to afford are the same “library collections...that faculty use to do their jobs.”
Even the collections that the library does manage to purchase are in danger of being damaged by the building's decrepit condition.
Microfilms previously stored in the basement have been moved to the first floor due to persistent flooding. The fourth floor stacks have been covered in plastic wrapping to protect against a perpetually leaking roof, yet some books haven't escaped irreversible damage.
The faculty is increasingly expected to do more with less because, as Wilder stated, “We are terribly inadequate in our ability to support the faculty.”
This is the inevitable consequence of years of budget cuts that have severely strained the university’s principal research function.
Despite the library's dire circumstances, Wilder remains hopeful for the future. He notes that many in campus leadership have expressed support for a new library building, including the Faculty Senate, Student Government and even Edwards.
That's right—the very same state legislators who condemned LSU Library's deplorable conditions in 2017 were ultimately unwilling to commit the funds to new facilities.
Why would we expect them to commit the full $140 million needed for a new library?
Hollow promises will not build a new library. Our university's students and faculty need action—real action—that prioritizes our role as a "scholarship first" university and ensures an intellectual future for Louisiana.
Charlie Stephens is a 20-year-old political communication junior from Baton Rouge.