Opinion: SDSU’s crumbling library is emblematic of the university’s misplaced priorities

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Leaks at the SDSU Library
The shelves are wrapped in plastic and the buckets are ready in the leaky main SDSU library. Photos by Peter Herman

Why is it San Diego State Universityadministration wastes money on branding as main library collapses?

On March 23, the SDSU NewsCenter proudly announced that as part of “the updated branding during San Diego State University’s 125th anniversary celebration on March 14, new secondary colors have been introduced: anthracite, white and teal”.

the full story detailed how much time and effort went into thinking about the university’s color palette,

“After months of research and discussion during the university’s strategic planning process, as well as an additional 10-month project involving students, faculty, staff, and alumni, SDSU has introduced a palette of extended colors, providing guidelines on when the three secondary colors can be used,” according to the report.

Left out—the cost.

When I asked La Monica Everett-Haynes, associate vice president and chief communications officer of SDSU, about the award, she replied that $150,000 had been allocated to hire a “global creative agency” to spearhead the initiative. 10 months of research, planning and development and an additional $24,800 from an existing marketing and communications budget.

Let’s round it up to $175,000. It’s probably even more. The December 10 minutes of the President’s Budget Advisory Committee indicate that $300,000 was approved for the “Brand Activation Plan”.

But at the same time, the University is giving money to outside consultants to update its slogan and choose colors with instructions on when the new colors “can be used” (who knew there was rules for such things?), library of love is collapsing.

after the story erupted over the library’s refusal of Bram and Sandra Dijkstra’s offer to donate The John Coltrane Memorial Black Music Archive (I understand the parties have since agreed to mediation), two librarians explained in a letter to the University Senate that the conditions in the library were too humid to protect the collection.

“For more than 10 years, we have constantly had [humidity] problems with maintaining an adequate environment for paper documents,” the librarians reported. “LP collections require special storage and a controlled environment with humidity levels between 30-40% to prevent warping and disintegration, which is even lower than that of paper-based materials.”

In other words, the library cannot maintain an environment dry enough to preserve the collection. Accepting this archive and storing it on campus could potentially destroy it. The library therefore had to regretfully refuse the gift.

Fixing humidity problems requires “a dedicated HVAC system costing over a million dollars.” You’d think the administration would jump on this and do what they can to keep their collections safe, but you’d be wrong.

“The library and campus administration have deflected our repeated requests for better environmental control and more space, citing lack of funding and/or construction constraints,” the librarians at the Senate of the United States said. university.

A dehumidifier in the library.

Instead of a permanent solution, staff resorted to interim measures. “We currently have portable, industrial-grade dehumidifiers running 24 hours a day, emptying water into bins that need to be emptied several times a day,” according to the letter.

The situation is even worse than the letter to the University Senate allows, as the ceiling of the Special Collections stacks has multiple leaks, forcing these precious and rare items to be covered with plastic wrap.

Some stacks have plastic sheeting but the ceiling seems fine. When I asked I was told they were planning for leaks so they covered the chimneys as a precaution.

In addition to moisture and leaks inside, the exterior of the library is crumbling. A colleague tells me that he has seen 1,000 year old cathedrals in better condition.

Ruined exterior of Love Library.

As bad as these problems may be, they are only the most visible. Since 2010, the CSU Seismic Renovation Priority Lists designated Love Library as a Priority 1 building deserving “urgent attention for seismic upgrading”. SDSU is right next to the Rose Canyon Fault, which the California Earthquake Commission is considered “the greatest seismic threat to San Diego”, capable of a magnitude 6.9 earthquake.

What could happen? No one knows for sure, but as geology professor Isabelle Sacramento-McJilton said in 2017“We’re in California for God’s sake; modernize that damn building.

We are now in 2022, twelve years later, and nothing has been done. Are they waiting for the building to collapse or for a piece of the exterior to fall on someone? Maybe that’s what the Healing Garden is for (cost: $250,000).

Obviously, the library’s problems predate Adela de la Torre. But she’s the president now. The budget reflects his priorities, and they obviously don’t include the library. Instead, it’s always something else.

For example, paying $123,250 to Salesforce “to extend existing Salesforce functionality and upgrade the level of services from ‘Corporate’ to ‘Enterprise’ Marketing Cloud.” Or spend $200,000 on SDSU’s 125th anniversary celebration. The President’s Budget Advisory Committee approvals for the past four years, with the exception of very small additions to the acquisitions budget, never even mention the library.

This neglect is incomprehensible for two reasons.

First, the administration has repeatedly stated that they want to add more doctorate programs so that SDSU can achieve the goals of the Carnegie Foundation Highest rank – R1 for “very high research activity” – which would make SDSU one of the very few R1 universities serving Hispanics in the country. A laudable ambition, but you can’t be a research-intensive university with a poorly funded library that’s on the verge of collapse.

Second, the library represents the heart of the university. This is where students go to study and where all the books and journals that publish our research are. While a new color scheme is nice, it’s superficial and doesn’t do anything for the university’s primary mission: education. The library, for its part, represents the very essence of higher education: the search for truth.

But instead of meeting Love Library’s many needs, de la Torre and his budget advisory board always opt for shiny new projects that can make headlines, but leave the rest of the campus unraveling. And the rest of the campus is indeed falling apart.

In addition to the library’s infrastructure problems, 35 elevators”have a critical need of substitution. It’s unclear how many will actually be replaced, but since the $600,000 request in the latest round of budget requests is a fraction of the $16.7 million replacement cost, not much.

the 2017 Tremco Roof Condition Report listed 15 roofs as “replace immediately”. How many can be replaced if the request is approved? Of them.

But instead of embarking on a massive fundraising campaign that would fix the library and tackle the $1 billion in deferred maintenance needs (and that was in 2020, the number has undoubtedly grown even more), the administration comes up with an “updated brand strategy” and spends valuable resources developing rules for “when all three secondary colors may be used”.

What are they thinking?

Peter C.Herman is Professor of English Literature at San Diego State University. He has published on Shakespeare, Milton, and the literature of terrorism, and has published essays in Salon, Inside Higher Ed, and Times of San Diego. His most recent book is “Inexpressible: Literature and terrorism, from the gunpowder plot to 9/11(Routledge, 2020).

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