Gould Problems

By Natalie Lafferty ’22

In the mid to late 1970s, Carleton decided its library, built in 1955, was in need of major renovations. The current library was drab, uninviting, and aesthetically unpleasing. In addition, at only 59,000 square feet, it was not large enough to accommodate the growing student population. Originally planned when enrollment was at 900 students, the library was designed to accommodate 1,200 students. By 1978, enrollment was around 1,650 students, almost double the size of the student body when the library was built roughly twenty years prior.

Not only was the building not large enough, its layout was also inefficient. For example, the circulation and reserve desks were separated, the office of the college librarian was located away from the rest of the staff, the reference collection was split amongst floors, the microfilm was isolated, the first through third floors were not accommodating for student study spaces, resource centers were dispersed throughout the building, and study spaces were separated from the stacks. There was also little space for group work and few opportunities to browse.

The library also was not up to date in terms of technology. There were not enough microform reading stations and the services provided did not cater to the advances in computer forms of information storage and exchange. At the same time, the library’s function was transforming. As the paperback revolution spread across the country, students did not need to check textbooks out at the library and read them there. Instead, students could purchase their own textbooks through the bookstore more cheaply without relying on the reserves at the library. In addition, there was a push for more independent work and course-related research, helped by the library as its collection was growing with the addition of more paperbacks, government documents, journals, and microform. This changed how the space needed to function, as students needed places to collaborate and spread out their items instead of reading silently from a textbook. 

With this rise in paperbacks and nontraditional forms of scholarship, the stacks were starting to get crowded. According to Ann Niles, part of the library planning sub-committee, the library could get by for another eighteen years as the calculations for the capacity of the stacks did not account for smaller forms of media such as microfilm. Therefore, she argues the 350,000 capacity limit was not an immediate threat as Gould already had a capacity 359,000 with room to grow. On the other hand, Frank Morral estimated the collection would continue to increase by 8,000 to 10,000 volumes per year, clearly causing stress about the possibility of overcrowding. Either way, the square footage of the library was possibly constricting the collection and the study space available to students. 

All things considered, the building was also starting to deteriorate and needed some basic renovations. Starting with adding air conditioning, climate-controls needed to be installed to ensure the preservation of Carleton’s collection. Contributing to the issue, the windows were also poorly insulated, causing heating issues in the winter and dryness. This push for climate-control was a result of the awareness of books not just as scholarship, but as cultural and aesthetic artifacts. Along with maintaining a proper environment, the roof needed to be repaired as it was leaking in places and the lighting was consuming too much energy, relying on timers in the stacks. 

The largest issues were associated with how students interacted with and felt about the library. According to a student survey in 1978, students were upset with the study spaces available and hated the interior decor and furnishings. According to Frank Morral, “something must be done to soften and humanize the dark, unrelenting atmosphere of a warehouse for books.” Emphasizing this reality was the 30% of responses that indicated the library was “poor” in aesthetics. Because of this dislike towards the library, 51% of the students surveyed said their first choice would be to study in their room, only 29% putting the library as their first choice. Yet, there were many responses indicating their rooms were poor study environments, suggesting the library would be worse. Other students felt the library was often crowded. The planning committee believed that was partially due to some unusable seating, but mostly because they needed more seats. The library only had 460 seats in total, able to accommodate 28% of the student population. But, because some seating was realistically never going to reach capacity, it could fit more like 21% of the students. For a school like Carleton, the American Library Association suggests one seat for every three students, accommodating at least 33% of the student population. All of these figures indicate more seating was needed. 

Along with more seating, there was a demand for an area dedicated to archives and rare books, audio stations, seminar rooms, more typewriters, areas for exhibits, and an area where students could study later into the evening.