As a UC Berkeley student, I am not surprised that the world’s number one public university has decided to, once again, close libraries in order to pinch pennies. It is painfully clear where the university’s priorities lie — not with academics and researchers but with athletics, placating wealthy donors, and bulldozing over green space to build more student housing. Why else would athletics get over $30 million in funding when the university needs to close three libraries to save $1 million?
I am a history major who frequently uses libraries across campus to research for my thesis. Many of my resources come from the anthropology library, which I can attest is a safe and special place to conduct research. In my opinion, you cannot separate a university from its libraries because libraries are the university. Even in the midst of the internet age, it is impossible for me to learn everything I need to know without stepping foot in a library. I came to Berkeley not only for the wonderful professors, but for the world-renowned libraries and archives that protect the work of tens of thousands of researchers like myself. Last year, I spent a week in a library researching the history of South Asian migration to the United States. Because of excellent record keeping by campus libraries, I could access precious primary source material on the history of my people — 10 minutes away from my dorm room!
However, nowadays, I find myself crammed into the same two libraries as every other student on campus, struggling to find a quiet place to study and work. Let me set the scene. Moffit, one of the only libraries open for students, is packed to the brim during midterm season. Students are studying standing up. People bring sleeping bags and tents to camp in the basement overnight. Over 5% of the UC student population is homeless and libraries provide an important and safe resource for these students. Libraries are a sanctuary for those who cannot work at home, for commuters, for learners, for scientists and historians alike.
Some may say that the university is only closing niche libraries, such as the anthropology library, instead of major libraries like Moffit or Doe. However, when will this trend end? If anything, these libraries provide important work-study opportunities for undergraduates and host critical resources for graduate students to carry out research. Why does the university continuously de-prioritize library services whenever there is a budget issue? The university has already cut back hours at central campus libraries and any Cal student would tell you that we need more libraries, not less.
If UC Berkeley continues to tear down libraries, the ever-expanding student body on campus will not have any safe spaces left to do exactly what they came to do … learn and grow. However, UC Berkeley’s problem is a bigger problem — the problem of cash flow to our state’s public universities. A few decades ago, UC Berkeley was free for all California students. It’s time to talk about why our state must spend more on higher education.
Reva Kale is a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley.