Barnard's faculty and staff claim they were shut out of the decision-making process for the new library, which faculty say also led to the resignation of the Dean of Barnard Library and Information Services Lisa Norberg.
Administrators outlined the plan for the new Teaching and Learning Center, which includes removing 40,000 books from Barnard's on-site collections and moving research librarians to cubicles rather than offices, at a Dec. 2 faculty meeting, according to faculty and library staff present at the meeting.
Barnard Provost Linda Bell informed the faculty and library staff of Norberg's resignation in an email sent on Nov. 21 and obtained by Spectator, stating that Norberg "will be leaving the College on December 31st of this year to devote her full attention to the launch of an exciting non-profit venture focused on Open-Access Network."
At the Dec. 2 faculty meeting, after Barnard President Debora Spar presented the administration's plans for the new library, Norberg discussed the transition of the library collections and touched on her imminent departure.
Faculty members who were present at the meeting said it was then that Norberg began to cry. A handful of faculty and staff told Spectator that they perceived that Norberg's departure was prompted by a series of administrative decisions for the library that were in conflict with Norberg's vision.
"I feel like she was really hobbled, that it was impossible for her to get anything done. She was just disrespected," a Barnard library staff member, who asked to remain anonymous to protect job security, told Spectator.
A Barnard faculty member, who asked to remain anonymous to not damage relationships with administrators, echoed a similar perception to the librarians'.
"I think it was really mourning that she couldn't do the job she wanted to do. I think it was a very stressful situation. I think it was just kind of a very emotional thing and a very difficult thing for her to be the face of this thing," the faculty member said.
Norberg did not respond for a request to comment. Barnard's administration said that they were not able to provide responses by press time.
Several faculty members say that Norberg is not alone in her dissatisfaction with the administration's decisions, noting that their three main areas of concern have to do with reducing the library's collection from 200,000 to 160,000 books, minimizing the space of the library in the new building, and a lack of transparency in the planning process.
Additionally, the second Barnard Library & Academic Information Services staff member, who wished not to be named to protect job security, said that research librarians had no method to voice their needs for conducting private research consultations with students, and that the circulation staff was kept out of conversations about where the books on reserve and the closed collections will be housed.
"The new building is going to be much larger than the current building, but the amount of space allotted to books and the number of books in the library will shrink," Elizabeth Castelli, Barnard's Ann Whitney Olin professor of religion, said. "People expressed concerns about that. People expressed concerns about how the planning is going, who's involved in making these decisions, and the effect of shrinking the physical holdings of the library," Castelli said.
Additionally, Spar told faculty at the Dec. 2 meeting that the size of the new library won't allow for new acquisitions to be added in the future.
"We are a very small library, but our books circulate a lot. The impact of not having those books accessible is big," the second Barnard Library & Academic Information Services staff member said.
Several faculty said that, beyond the 40,000 books that will be permanently stored off site after the new library is built, around 12,000 books will be donated to Better World Books, a nonprofit organization that sells used books, and other books will available for individuals to take as they wish.
Of Barnard's 198,000 current volumes, 20,000 that are unique to Barnard's library will be stored at Columbia libraries during the construction of the new library, and the rest will be in storage.
Once the library is built and the books have been deaccessioned or donated, the new library will only house 75 percent of Barnard's 166,000 volume collection.
The librarians were not consulted, though the administration did include faculty and students at several listening sessions, a Barnard Library & Academic Information Services staff member, who wished not to be identified to protect job security, said, adding that some senior library staff members attended these sessions, but felt that none of the sessions was dedicated to hearing the library staff's thoughts and ideas for the library.
"It wasn't that we weren't put in control—we weren't remotely considered or consulted," the library staff member added.
At conflict with Barnard's mission?
Multiple faculty and library staff members claimed that these decisions do not reflect the mission of Barnard as a liberal arts college.
"How are we conceptualizing the role of the library as it relates to the mission of the college? Twenty first-century colleges are made up of all kinds of media—that's a fact and that's, generally speaking, a good thing—but I think the concern really has to do with what the balance is of different kinds of resources for an institution like ours and what are the criteria that are being used to decide how that balance is being established for us?" Castelli said.
"When you look at the design of the building and the first thing you see is the Athena Center and the café, it in fact has usurped the mission of the college, which is for critical thinking and the production of knowledge," the same unnamed Barnard faculty member said.
Additionally, the Barnard Library & Academic Information Services staff member said that research librarians will operate out of cubicles, which is far from ideal when meeting with students for private research consultation.
"When we have a private research consultation we try to create a space to talk about research without distractions. It's one of our major services. Barnard is very much a service-focused institution. If we are creating a situation where we can't do the work we do, it's tough," the second library staff member said.
Faculty said they are currently strategizing about how to get their input heard by the administration.
The Barnard administration did announce after the faculty meeting that it will be conducting two feedback sessions on Dec. 8 and Dec. 10 for faculty to attend. Though Kim Hall, the Lucycle Hook Chair, professor of English and Africana studies, noted she won't be attending due to scheduling conflicts and because she doubts the feedback will be taken into much consideration.
"A number of faculty don't feel heard. I do think there will be pushback at those meetings," Hall added.
Hall said she plans to draft a statement for someone at the meeting to read in her absence. But the time frame for faculty to act is short, as Barnard's board of trustees is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, when the board will vote on approving the timeline for demolition at Lehman Hall and construction of the new Teaching and Learning Center.
With Norberg's resignation, Castelli said she's concerned about how the library will be managed effectively.
"We are now going into an intensified planning period precisely at the time when the person who is best equipped to guide us through that, Lisa Norberg, won't be here," Castelli said. "The additional concern is going into an intensive planning process at a more granular level for a new library in all of its manifestations without the guidance of someone who is actually a professional in that area."
Many faculty and library staff noted that Norberg's leadership was one of a kind.
"She has a really perfect background for this situation in which Barnard has found itself in being this new technological environment," Anne Jonas, program manager for Barnard's Center for Research on Women, said. "She has a background in information science and is very passionate about open access, which is something that a lot of times gets swept aside. She has really helped Barnard be at the forefront on that issue, she's just been very aware of those issues of access and information equality and power dynamics in a way that has allowed Barnard to be more visible around the world."
Hall also noted that Norberg, who began working at Barnard in 2010, was progressive when it came to accessibility of learning and implementation of technology and new media in libraries.
"I think Lisa is a quiet visionary. It could be easy to kind of overlook the depth of her knowledge of what libraries are and will be in the 21st century, and this is a huge loss for us, someone who was really invested in the mission of Barnard as a liberal arts college for women, and what that meant and how the library supports how we try to shape women," Hall said.
Bell concluded her email announcing Norberg's resignation by acknowledging Norberg's long list of contributions and accomplishments while dean of the Barnard library, which included reorganizing Barnard Library & Academic Information Services and creating Instructional Media & Technology Services, allowing librarians to take the lead on digital initiatives, adding a digital archivist to the Barnard Archives and Special Collections, establishing the Empirical Reasoning Lab, and establishing On Our Terms, the first open access journal for undergraduate research and scholarship at Barnard.
"Lisa was really about being forward-thinking and doing difficult things, but she's also really one of the most thoughtful people I've ever known," Jenna Freedman, a Barnard research librarian, said.
Bell noted in her email that the College will soon begin a search for Norberg's replacement, but did not specify a timeline for that search.
Castelli said that for now, Norberg's responsibilities will be distributed among the remaining library staff. She expects a search committee to start looking for Norberg's replacement next semester.
"Lisa created an environment to foster innovation and excellence in her staff and to support that. And that requires listening and having conversations and all that. We haven't had that in constructing the building," the Barnard Library & Academic Information Services staff member said. "To think that we'll have it once we're in the building will be naïve."
Aaron Fisher contributed reporting.