News | Administration

Columbia cracks down on alumni digital access

Last year, while on sabbatical from her professorship at Hampshire College, Michele Hardesty, GSAS ’07, came to depend on the scanners in Butler Library’s Digital Humanities Center, a resource she had access to as an alumna.

She was surprised, then, to learn that she could no longer log in after the University libraries obtained software this summer to better enforce a long-standing policy prohibiting alumni from accessing specialized computer software.

“It wasn’t so much that we changed our policy,” Damon Jaggars, associate University librarian for collections and services, said. “It’s that we’ve instituted the types of technology that allow us to actually make sure our policies are being met.”

Access to the resources in the Digital Humanities Center in Butler Library, as well as in the Digital Science Center in the Science & Engineering Library and the Digital Social Science Center in Lehman Library, is now limited to current students, faculty and staff.

The terms of the University’s education discount do not allow for alumni, Jaggars said.

“If we open it up to the universe of other users, the thousands and thousands of alumni at Columbia, it would be a very different rate card that we would be seeing,” he said.

But Hardesty, who teaches U.S. literature at Hampshire, thinks the stricter policy is shortchanging alumni.

“It’s not a lot of support for people who spent seven years at Columbia, teaching at Columbia,” she said. “I think it should be a priority. I’ve been using the facilities and depend on them.”

Software which alumni will lose access to includes Adobe Design Premium, MATLAB, Mathmatica, and Final Cut Pro, but many said the most upsetting loss is the scanning equipment in Butler.

The only scanning facilities now available to alumni are those located just outside the Digital Humanities Center and in the Periodicals Room on the fourth floor of Butler, neither of which require a UNI to log in. Many alumni have pointed out though that these machines are not as reliable, especially for large projects, and are almost always in use.

Zane Mackin, CC ’01, GSAS ’10, and an employee in the Digital Humanities Center, said that he has noticed more people using the scanners directly outside the facility lately.

Jaggars recognized that overcrowding seems to be a problem and has asked the technical staff of the library to look at usage logs over the next few weeks to verify the complaints.

“It’ll take us a little while to get everything figured out, but we’re on top of it,” he said, adding that he is willing to add memory to the scanners so that they operate better.

“I’m trying to give them [alumni] everything we can, both on the electronic resource side, as well as in our facilities, that still allows us to keep within our legal commitments,” Jaggars said.

Despite these efforts, some alumni still feel marginalized. “Particularly in this day and age, when digital resources are becoming more and more critical to doing research and people are spending more and more time searching for jobs, it seems like Columbia should be encouraging us and making it easier for us,” said Edward Reno, GSAS ’11 and an adjunct professor at Adelphi University. Reno described the decisions by the administration to cut down on alumni access as “horrifying.”

“The main issue, for me, with that change in policy, is that that means new Ph.D.s going into a really tough job market are going to be cut out of access that they need,” Hardesty said.

Mackin pointed out that unemployed alumni are those with perhaps the greatest need for full library access, since they must continue to do research independently while pursuing a career. “We used to serve a lot of alumni,” he said. “It made us feel good to support them.”

“This is about Columbia being a resource not only for its own students,” Reno said, “but about being a resource for the community at large.”

margaret.mattes@columbiaspectator.com

Comments

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Anonymous posted on

A few of points of clarification on this story. First, alumni do have access to the Columbia University Libraries by virtue of being Columbia alumni. This access enables alumni to utilize the wealth of resources, print and electronic, the Libraries make available to the Columbia scholarly community within library facilities. Second, scanning equipment is available to alumni in two locations in Butler Library, in the Periodicals Room on the 4th floor and in Room 304, just outside the Digital Humanities Center. The story is correct that some of this equipment has not been functioning as reliably as it should, and library technical staff are working to rectify the situation. Third, the story neglects to mention the fact that the Libraries offers remote access to one of the largest collections of electronic resources for alumni at https://alumni-friends.library.... We encourage alumni to take advantage of these resources in support of their ongoing learning throughout their lives.

+1
+2
-1
rick131 posted on

Thank you for clarifying this.

+1
-1
-1
Paul Hsiao posted on

Cool!

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

You have to clarify, alumni have access to Columbia's vast resources and collections for life,this article is oy about free access of the scanners

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Hahahaha, I love how these humanities nutjobs are upset because they are supposed to be "entitled" to free use of substantial enterprise-level equipment towards which cost and upkeep they no longer contribute.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

And I suppose you're paying 100% of your education fully out of pocket.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Nope. My parents have paid some, I have paid some, and there's some grants there too, from gifts from alumni just for that purpose. Tuition revenue either from myself or on my behalf is going to Columbia's operating budget, a portion of which funds the maintenance and upkeep of equipment like the Butler scanners.

When I graduate, that revenue will no longer flow, unless I choose to give to Columbia (which I probably will.) When I do, those gifts will be earmarked for financial aid, so I can "pay forward" what alumni have done for me.

Either way, after I graduate, revenue that the university continues to receive from me (in the form of gifts) will not go toward maintenance and upkeep, but rather toward investment in human capital -- i.e. financial aid.

These humanities nutjobs probably have never given in their lives. All they want to do is take, take, take, because they are "entitled" to stuff for free. Here's some news for you: 1) there is no such thing as a free lunch, and 2) money doesn't grow on trees.

+1
+2
-1
Anonymous posted on

Why can't we simply have a civil discourse on columbia policy towards alumni? You have some valid points and make good arguments, but we really don't have to make this personal or target against a certain group of people. There are definitely columbia graduates, majored in humanities and science alike, who have difficulties finding employment in this tough market and would highly appreciate some more help from the university; whether they deserve it or not is up for debate, which I think is exactly the purpose of this article. I don't think those people mentioned in this article are necessarily nutjobs, nor do they express a sense of entitlement; they simply are frustrated because they can no longer enjoy the resources which used to be available to them.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

And one more point, Columbia's libraries already give alumni access to many resources free of charge *as a favor*. As with all privileges, it can be revoked, changed, or modified at any time by the university. Alumni don't have any inherent "rights" to demand free resources. So stop acting like whiny entitled crybabies.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

So we should just let the scanners sit unused out of spite?

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Yep. The same way we should let people's cash in banks sit unused, the computer on my desk at my parents' home sit unused, the unsold NY Times at the newsstand sit unused, etc. -- all out of "spite".

No, it's all out of a clear understanding of property rights. Right now, Columbia's licenses ONLY legally permit students (about 25,000) use the software, NOT alumni (about 250,000). In order to extend the license to alumni, it would cost substantially more. Students currently pay tuition to fund these licenses and other resources. Alumni do not. That's it. Period. End of story. You get what you pay for. As a student, you paid tuition. You got access to campus resources. As an alumni, you don't pay tuition, and only get access to such campus resources as Columbia sees fit to grant you. That's it. End of story. Fin.

+1
-2
-1
Anonymous posted on

I am an alum and I think I will pull back my donation contribution this year.

+1
+1
-1
rick131 posted on

Why? For use of free scanners in Butler, that you probably have never used? As the librarian above said, there are some still available, just fewer. You probably have never used the Columbia Libraries since graduation. It is one of the largest university collections in the world. Why don't you donate some scanners to Columbia if this is such an issue for you.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

For the record NYU and Princeton do not restrict digital service from alumni. The argument that we can only afford restrictive software licenses might make sense for a cash-strapped, third tier institution, but as an Ivy, Columbia can afford these sorts of things.

This restriction affects recent PhD graduates especially. As we all know, the market is very bad for those seeking professorships. Many recent graduates still need to use these machines to continue their research. This is of crucial importance. Postdocs need to keep researching and publishing, or they'll never get hired. Columbia can easily help facilitate this by re-opening computer access.

Also, this does not perforce have to be a free service. Columbia gives borrowing privileges to alumni for a fee. Why not offer an extended account offering computing services as well?

+1
-1
-1