News & Opinion » News

Book drop


After thinking a lot about its library, trustees of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School decided on Friday to remove almost all of its books. A substantial portion of the Ambrose Swasey Library --- about 250,000 of its 300,000 volumes --- will be moved in the coming months to the University of Rochester's Rush Rhees Library.

            The library is the chief resource for theological library services and materials in Western New York. With Colgate Rochester's budget deficit ballooning to nearly $700,000 this year, it has become impossible to maintain the library's $425,000 budget.

            The school is expected to save about $300,000 per year through the merger, and also pick up an additional $45,000 of revenue each year by allowing the UR to store infrequently-used volumes at Swasey.

The school will only keep the 40,000 to 50,000 titles needed to maintain the standards required by the Association of Theological Schools.

            The partnership is similar to one made between Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York City this past March. UR librarians will care for the materials Colgate Rochester gives them, which means the elimination of all but one of the library positions at Ambrose Swasey.

This isn't the first time Colgate Rochester has made sacrifices in order to remain on stable financial footing. Last year, administrators decided to sell several library treasures through Sotheby's in New York City.

            Librarians are used to the cuts, which keep happening despite a glowing assertion of their importance on Colgate Rochester's website: "The library's greatest resource is its staff --- 10 individuals with years of library and classroom experience, master's and doctoral degree-level competence in theological and biblical studies as well as library science, a commitment to ministry, and an eagerness to serve."

            "It's been incredibly frustrating here, and there's still a long road ahead," says Inter-library Loan Coordinator Evanna DiSalvo. "But to imagine this resource going away is incredibly depressing. It's unbelievable that it could actually happen. The environment is just so different from the UR."

            Her biggest fear is that community members, who check out 57 percent of all Ambrose Swasey materials in circulation, will lose access to the collection. Her fear is not unfounded --- while a person not affiliated with Colgate Rochester or UR could get a membership card and check out books at Ambrose Swasey for a fee of $50 per year, UR charges $100 for similar access to Rush Rhees.

            Colgate students are concerned that they will lack both the time and transportation needed to access the moved materials. "It may help balance the budget, but it can not, in any stretch of the imagination, be considered an enhancement of our studies, support, or mission," says Kirk Baker, a student and founding member of Colgate's Social Justice Committee. "We receive almost no increased benefits and a major decrease in ease of access."

            Baker was among the students who drew up alternate proposals, some suggesting that financial support for transportation be included in tuition aid packages. So far, the administration's answer to the transportation problem is that books requested online will be delivered to Colgate Rochester within two days.

Halbrooks and other Divinity School officials say the merger will give Colgate students the full library privileges shared by UR students and staff members for the very first time, but students and librarians maintain that these services are already available. "Anything they're saying we'd be receiving we already have," DiSalvo says. "We already have electronic access. We already have reciprocal borrowing privileges through the UR."

            The merger will still be taking place despite a recent private donation of $1 million. The gift will help put Colgate Rochester on more solid financial footing while the school unfolds a new, five-year business plan. Among other goals, the plan includes strengthening Colgate Rochester's relationship with alumni and other donors, increasing enrollment by 25 percent, leasing space at the school for conferences and special events, and shortening the time it takes for students to earn a degree.