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National CrossTalk Fall 2001
News Editorial Other Voices Interview

4 of 5 Stories

A Town and Gown Library
City joins San Jose State University in collaborative arrangement

By Carl Irving


Six years after San Jose State University President Robert Caret and former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer first discussed the possibility, an elegant new eight-story library, for both city and campus use, is being built in this city of almost one million people.

The collaborative venture, unprecedented in the United States, is to open in 2003, and 93 percent of the projected $177.5 million cost is already in the bank. Campus and city leaders say most of the barriers and doubts between town and gown have been removed. They speak proudly of a new model for the nation.

"Down the road, this will be a huge national story, about how a city and a major university can come together and create a resource, one that's open and airy and accessible," said former Mayor Hammer, who helped to negotiate the deal with San Jose State, a downtown campus with an enrollment of 27,000.

"Lots of people around the country are watching us, to see how it works," said President Caret. "Professional librarians all over the country think it's a great idea."

City and state bond issues will pay most of the cost. San Jose State, oldest of the 23 campuses in the California State University system, is contributing $5 million, and a campus-based campaign hopes to raise another $16.5 million in private donations.

"Susan and I had the right moment in time," Caret said. "A year earlier or later, and it never would have happened."

Patricia Breivik, San Jose State’s library dean, will co-manage the new library with City Librarian Jane Light. Breivik believes the new facility could become a national model of library efficiency. 
The library is to be a "gateway" between the campus and a future civic center. It will house 1.4 million books, 80 percent of them from the university's collections. There will be more than 3,000 spaces for computer plug-ins, which will employ the latest technology. These will be designed and installed by experts from Silicon Valley high-tech firms such as Adobe and Cisco.

A distinctive feature will be what Caret called a "tower of light," a solid wall of glass permitting sunlight throughout each floor, including the basement.

City Librarian Jane Light said sharing the facility will mean significant savings, because student and public use are expected to overlap. University students generally go to the campus library between 9 AM and 4 PM, Monday through Thursday, while use of the public library is heaviest after 4 PM and on weekends.

Savings estimates under joint management range as high as 30 percent, as the partners have agreed to share everything from heating and air conditioning costs to staffing and some book and periodical purchases.

Joint operation should be a convenience for San Jose State students, most of whom are commuters and three-quarters of whom work at least part-time. They no longer will have to go to the downtown campus for books they have ordered but can pick them up instead at one of 17 city branch libraries. (There are plans for six more branches.)

The path to construction has not been smooth.

After passage of state and city bond issues, in November and December 1998, it took heavy lobbying by Mayor Hammer and local legislators to secure $86 million from the state, and $70 million from the city for the library. Ever since Hammer and Caret announced the joint project in February 1996, they have had to quell doubts and fears about how this change would affect lives and careers.

City residents worried that burly students would elbow them aside and that a campus sometimes seen as arrogant and aloof might clamp down on public access. Users of the branch libraries had to be reassured repeatedly that the project would not deprive their neighborhoods of books and services.

However, most of the opposition came from San Jose State faculty members. Few doubted the need for new library facilities -by 1994, San Jose's population had tripled since the opening of the city's main library, which is squeezed between a large hotel and a convention center. The campus expanded at a similarly rapid rate and, for the past 20 years, has had to divide its books between two buildings.

  Former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer and San Jose State University President Robert Caret were instrumental in bringing about the new jointly operated library, now under construction. San Jose’s current mayor, Ron Gonzales, is at right.
But the 1996 announcement "caught the faculty by surprise," said Kenneth Peter, a political science professor who was chairman of the faculty Academic Senate in 1997 and 1998. Opposition began to "solidify" amid concerns that the academic and public missions were irreconcilable, Peter said. "Right away it was clear there had to be some separation, and not total merger."

Many faculty members, especially in the humanities and social sciences, had serious reservations about security and access, fearing theft and carelessness that might threaten collections of irreplaceable books.

Some faculty argued that security gates and inspections were needed, but most ultimately conceded these would be contrary to the nature of public libraries. Faculty proposals for a "duplex" library, with two separate wings, were discouraged by both campus and city officials.

Plans finally moved along with an understanding that the campus collections would be housed on the upper four floors and the city's on the lower four, but with free public access (with purchase of a $5 city library card) on all floors.

Professor Peter still sees risks in the project but supports it because "a new library was desperately needed. It was quite clear at that time that the (California State University) system was not going to fund it unless there was some kind of creative arrangement."

The Academic Senate has been involved in the planning most of the way and has voted approval three times: for planning, for a written joint agreement and for construction.

Peter believes the final agreement contains "measures to safeguard the mission... The university retains control of its collection within a circulation policy that does not shut out the public."

San Jose State faculty member James Schmidt thinks the new library will improve the performance of the city’s middle schools and high schools. 
But some faculty remain unconvinced.

"My main objection is the vulnerability of the collection to checking out and not being returned on time or simply not returned," said David McNeil, chairman of the history department and a member of the San Jose State faculty for 31 years. "Our campus, oldest in the system, has an older book collection-and a rather fine one." But McNeil conceded that the time for opposition has passed.

E. Bruce Reynolds, another historian, has fought a losing battle against the project since its inception. "What we've done in this deal is effectively give away our library collection," Reynolds said. "Everybody has access to the same books. I'm very concerned."

Reynolds thinks a joint reference desk will hinder student and faculty studies and research. But James Schmidt, professor of library science, said such fears should have been laid to rest by surveys which found that librarians for the two systems can work together compatibly.

"The issue isn't public library users are blue and university library reference users are green," Schmidt said. "The issue is how to best accommodate the wide variety of queries which all reference users-blue and green-pose. How better than with a large staff and a larger collection?"

Schmidt said students in San Jose's heavily minority middle schools and high schools "will be introduced to a richer and deeper resource, thus vastly improving their performance and prospects for getting into college. "The campus reflects this population-more than 70 percent of San Jose State students are non-white, and a high percentage are the first in their families to attend college.

Faculty opposition has dwindled to a few in the history and political science departments, President Caret said, because security and ambience have been assured. He foresees voluntary segregation, with the general public mostly using the lower floors, where recent fiction will be stored.

"We're not even going to know we're in the same building," the president said. The lower floors will have escalators but the top four, where the university books will be shelved, will only have elevators. "As you go up, it becomes more academic," he said.

The dean of the university library, Patricia Breivik, who will co-manage the operations with city librarian Jane Light, looks forward to generating new and more effective ways of transmitting information, providing what could become a national model of library efficiency.

"When we went to school, we went to the library to find topics the teacher wanted," said Breivik, who received her doctorate from Columbia University and came to San Jose in 1999 from Wayne State University, in Detroit. "Now students type in a few words and get 300 citations...There's so much junk out there...We've not done a good job at becoming information literates, even though we may be computer literate."

Some problems still must be resolved. The most important is how, or if, the university will share its vital and irreplaceable books with the public. Another is how much access the public will have to the internet system that now links San Jose State with libraries on some other Cal State campuses.

But campus and city officials are confident these questions will be answered and that the experiment in joint library operation will be successful.

"It's time for new models, as technical changes and architecture get much better," said Jane Light, the city librarian. "The world around us is changing and we're in the midst of Silicon Valley. People don't want to think there's a barrier between them and the information they need, when their tax dollars are paying for all that."

  David McNeil, chairman of San Jose State’s history department, worries that valuable books might be lost as a result of the joint city-campus agreement.
Awareness of the need for change has seeped into the older academic disciplines and has helped to bring around many previously skeptical faculty, said Allison Heisch, a professor of English and a faculty member for 16 years. My colleagues were very much opposed to the idea," Heisch said. "I myself thought it was a wild one. I don't hear complaints anymore. Most of us (in the English department) have become excited about it."

Recently, Heisch volunteered to serve on the campus library board, which is responsible for approving step-by-step planning and construction. "It is a creative and gutsy idea, one that not only anticipates but welcomes the future," he said.

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