Announcement of shift to an all-digital library and withdrawal of Badgers from NCAA draws anger and sadness


Rebecca Flieder

The reference section in the library.

On Tuesday, Feb.7, at approximately 3:45p.m., the VTSU community received a shocking email with the subject line “Announcing Changes to Vermont State University Athletics and Libraries.”

Those changes will drastically affect the VTSU campuses, communities, and college life as a whole.

These changes were announced suddenly, making many students and other community members feel blindsided and confused. Following the email, links were sent to faculty, staff, and students for two “open sessions” – one for faculty and staff, and the other for students.

The student meeting took place from 6:00p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and was meant to allow students to find answers for their many questions, as well as to engage in an opportunity to express their concerns and receive some reassurance in response to those concerns. This meeting, hosted by Vermont State University President Parwinder Grewal – along with the university’s top administrators – was far less than ideal. A number of students spoke, many of them student athletes, and most did not find the answers they were looking for. Several said that they had already secured large numbers of signatures for a petition asking that the athletic programs and/or libraries not be changed – or at least not so drastically – while others said they were attending the meeting even as they and their peers had transfer applications open on their computer screens.

The changes to the campus libraries would essentially eliminate the library from the campus, at least in the sense that the building actually functions as a library. The suggested plan would create an entirely new online library system that is shared across the entire VTSU, including online programs. There is not, at the time of writing, a solid plan concerning where the extensive collections of each campus library will go, though according to Tuesday’s email, “the physical library collections will be offered first to the VSCS community.”

When this question was broached during the session, Grewal said that this plan will involve “working with individual programs and departments who have absolute need” to determine whether specific pieces of the library collections will remain on campuses, though it was unclear whether those pieces will still be housed in the library building.

Another concern regarded the community members outside of the campus itself who access the library. In response to this, Jim Allen, library director for VTSU and a member of the panel hosting the meeting, noted some pieces of the collections may be donated to public libraries and schools, and also suggested that the community members accessing the library were likely using it for the quiet space, and not so much for the collections themselves.

According to Grewal, the primary goal of this change is to be able to provide resources more quickly and easily, and to provide equal access to resources for students across the entire VTSU, regardless of what campus they are on or if they are online students. Unfortunately, this goal did not reassure many students, and the panel members failed to explain exactly how this change will benefit the pre-existing on-campus students, especially those who have come to rely on the library and its resources.

It is important to note that not a single student complained that the online library is being updated. There were no arguments that the digital library should remain as it is or even that the physical library systems should stay exactly the same. Students were simply saying that they do not want the physical library collections to disappear or for their beloved libraries to become something else entirely. Why can’t the physical libraries remain while an expanded digital library is offered?

Proposed changes in athletics will adversely affect the Johnson campus, with the Badgers being pulled out of the NCAA conference into what is often regarded as a lesser league. How will that affect recruitment and retention? For Vermont Tech, the news is even worse: athletics will be downgraded to club status.

If the physical library collections are leaving the campuses, along with a number of library staff, and the athletic programs on the Johnson and Randolph campuses are changing so drastically that student athletes feel better transferring out of the VTSU, what is keeping students on campus? If many student athletes leave, if the quintessential college study spaces (i.e. the library) shift dramatically, if faculty positions continue to be vacated and left unfilled, and if many classes are only being offered in some online capacity, what is left on the campuses to make students want to pay thousands of additional dollars for the privilege of staying there?

This “open session” was announced less than two and a half hours before it took place, meaning many were unable to attend. Despite the meeting being recorded, however, and even though it was requested, the recording of the session will not be shared with the VTSU students. This leaves many waiting in anticipation for the upcoming campus-specific meetings, for which Grewal will travel to each campus to hear questions and concerns. More than that, however, it leaves us with the question: “What’s next?”

Grewal has scheduled an in-person meeting with  Johnson campus students, faculty, and staff on Tuesday, Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.