MU Libraries and RHA collaborate on forum to gather support for proposed library fee

“The chancellor can’t impose this fee on you,” MU Libraries Director of Development Matt Gaunt said. “The library can’t impose this fee on you. The students are the only ones who can implement it.”

MU Libraries have one question for MU students: Are you in?

In April, the Missouri Students Association proposed a student fee aimed at improving the situation of the university’s currently struggling library system. The proposed fee would begin at $5 per credit hour and increase by $2 every year until it reaches $15; it would increase the library system’s budget by 76 percent, funding 40 new employment positions and allowing $20 million to be set aside for renovations.

On Sept. 15, MU Libraries Director for Advancement Matt Gaunt partnered with the Residence Halls Association president Billy Donley to host “I’m In!”, a discussion forum regarding the current state of the libraries and how the proposed fee would help them. The event was held in the Benton-Bingham Ballroom at Memorial Union North.

“The library reflects on this university,” Donley said. “We need to invest in the library now so that the library can invest in our students in the future.”

In November, the undergraduate and graduate student body will vote on the fee. In the meantime, students have to decide where they stand.

“We’re all here for the same reason; because we value our education,” Donley said at the beginning of the presentation.

Gaunt went on to explain how the subpar state of the MU library system takes a toll on the university at large.

“We’re becoming a second-tier institution,” he said. “We still have some academic prestige, but it’s slipping, and it’s slipping with the library.”

Among the statistics Gaunt presented were that US News & World Report ranks MU as 103rd on its list of top colleges and universities and that the MU library system is ranked similarly by the Association of Research Libraries.

Although the fee hasn’t been voted on, MU Libraries are already making an effort to improve the library experience for students. In the past, Ellis Library has closed at 2 a.m. every night. As of Sept. 8, it is open 24 hours Sunday through Thursday and closes at midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Acting Director of Libraries Ann Riley worked with the university provost to bring about this change.

“I just thought it was the right thing to do based on what we knew the students wanted, and the provost was very supportive of that,” Riley said in an interview after the forum.

Gaunt said he hopes to make the libraries more attractive study spaces than the residence halls, which are open 24 hours a day. The libraries could include study desk treadmills to keep students awake during the early morning hours and provide other amenities not available in the residence halls.

After Gaunt’s presentation, one of the questions that arose was whether the Bookmark Café’s hours would be extended on weeknights. Gaunt said the libraries will figure out how to accommodate students’ desire for coffee and snacks in the middle of the night.

The interactive, inviting nature of the forum emphasized the value MU Libraries places on the wants, needs and opinions of students.

“We’ve received so much great student input,” Gaunt said. “We want to be a student-friendly, student-centered library.”

Because the library fee would apply to all students at MU, its adoption is entirely their decision.

“The chancellor can’t impose this fee on you,” Gaunt said. “The library can’t impose this fee on you. The students are the only ones who can implement it.”

After the event, freshman Olivia Fahr expressed her support for the fee.

“I think it’s a good way to ensure that we get the most of the money that we’re already paying, so it’s worth it,” she said.

The forum’s hosts believed the effort was a preliminary success.

“We had several different student leaders from different organizations here tonight,” Donley said. “I think they came mainly to educate themselves so they could educate other students.”

Donley said one of the forum’s biggest goals was to educate the first-year students about the library fee and what it means for them.

MUTV filmed the event, livestreaming it to the residence halls. Gaunt said he hopes the halls will hold “watch parties” of sorts in which they present the forum footage to the students.

“We’ll provide some pizza, hand out information and have some library ambassadors there that are available to answer questions about the proposed fee,” Gaunt said.

The footage will also be available for students to watch on the MU Libraries website, library.missouri.edu.

If the fee is not passed in November, MSA will not likely put it up for a vote again for another five or six years, Gaunt said. As an MU grad himself, the thought of the university’s decline worries him greatly.

“(Our reputation) will continue to fall,” he said. “It will have an impact on your degree, my degree, all the University of Missouri’s alumni’s degrees.”

In response to the question, “Are you in?”, Gaunt says he is, and the student body should be as well.

“Vote yes,” he said. “If you choose to do it, it will transform the university.”

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