Finals week. As the mid-December snow falls on campus, the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library is abuzz with chatter. In between bites of library-provided lemon bars and sips of late night coffee, students cram for their exams. Hunched over their laptops, looking over stacks of books, students in study groups find fleeting academic respite in conversation amongst themselves. All of us, assembled in one place. This is the Bowdoin community.
In February 2023, a pipe burst in the H-L basement damaging hundreds of books and pushing the library into a scramble to preserve the collection and repair the damages. This accident highlighted the growing insufficiencies of the building as the rest of campus continues to modernize around it. These two contrasting images beg a question: What are the College’s priorities when it comes to the library?
It is undeniable that Bowdoin cares for the library and the vast wealth of knowledge stored within it. Last month, the College hired a new library director, Peter Bae. Bae’s vision for the library—one that is student and human-centered—is one of hope. His previous experience as a resource-sharing librarian provides a crucial perspective on modernizing the library’s collections.
The Future of the Library Report from 2020 proposed the construction of a new library as soon as possible. Their reasoning is twofold: the library is a central hub on campus and currently faces numerous structural shortcomings.
“Given Hawthorne-Longfellow Library’s known, serious infrastructure issues, which place collections and services at immediate risk, and the complexity of the project, planning should not be delayed,” the report said.
Following the release of the plan, the pandemic closed this potential new chapter before the words even hit the page.
Now, the College has an opportunity to dip its quill in the inkwell of possibility and begin writing a new narrative: an institutional master plan that prioritizes the library more than ever.
This plan should be designed to accommodate the library’s copious collections. Due to a lack of central climate control and space constraints on campus, thousands of books are stored in an annex off-campus. A new library should use modern technologies allowing for more of the College’s collections to be stored on campus.
A new building could also make the library more accessible for physically disabled community members. While H-L itself is accessible, a new building could make it easier to retrieve books on high shelves, for example.
Strengthening H-L as a center of campus life is not a task that is purely infrastructural, nor is it exclusively the College’s responsibility. If the College is going to continue investing in our library, we need to invest in the library, too.
This means getting to know our librarians—not just greeting them, but really making an effort to learn about what they do. They are the keepers of centuries of information in a world that is straddling the line between the digital and the physical. This also means taking advantage of the extensive library resources that the College has put in place.
Most of all, this means striving to keep the library full of life. When it’s time to do some late-night work, see if your pals want to join you in the stacks. Crack open one of H-L’s numerous puzzles and see who stops by. Study, laugh, lounge, tutor and roam. Make the library a place you want to be, and others will want to be there, too.
This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is composed of Janet Briggs, Sara Coughlin, Lucas Dufalla, Nikki Harris, Emma Kilbride, Sam Pausman and Juliana Vandermark.