By Amethyst Martinez
Sharon Whitfield, assistant professor-librarian, referred to library faculty as the “intellectual ombudsman” of Rider’s campus, representing and bringing all of the majors together. As financial stressors on Rider resulted in cuts universitywide, the library struggled, with multiple faculty and staff members leaving in the past few years without replacement, budget slashes and the merging of the Talbott and Moore Library departments.
“We’re kind of lacking the leadership, we stagnate and our morale is hurting because of it,” said Whitfield.
Provost DonnaJean Fredeen is seeking a replacement dean of libraries that will also serve as the associate provost, a vacancy that Fredeen said will not be filled until enrollments are seen for the fall semester.
“For a while, the library was reporting directly to me. There are a lot of people reporting to me,” said Fredeen. “The librarians need someone that they can report to that can focus on that.”
Matthew Stieglitz, the former dean of libraries and associate provost, left in January. Dean of the College of Education and Human Services Jason Barr has assumed the role of interim dean of libraries until a permanent replacement can be found to also fill the associate provost role.
“In the four years that I’ve been here, I’m now on my third dean,” said Whitfield. “I feel as though there’s no one really helping drive this initiative. It’s very bottom driven, rather than having any kind of leadership.”
With lack of permanent leadership, the library faculty and staff are struggling to move their efforts forward with many taking on multiple roles.
“It’s a lot of this invisible labor that we’re doing. Each of us is just taking more and more of this invisible labor on, and that invisible labor is actually what gives you access to all of those databases, books and resources,” said Whitfield.
In the past four years, the libraries lost six librarians: four to retirement and two through attrition, with another retiring this June, according to Melissa Hofmann, a professor-librarian.
“We thus have many areas of the university without a subject matter expert librarian of dedicated liaison support,” said Hofmann. “That means there is no one in that subject area to develop the library collection, stay abreast of publication and research trends, keep current with the curriculum and, most importantly, give students and faculty the most informed research help based on all that specialized knowledge.”
Hofmann said the most needed is a business librarian, since 29% of students are enrolled in the business school. There is also no expert librarian for the sciences and social sciences, according to Hofmann.
“The lack of dedicated and expert leadership for the libraries only compounds the problems,” said Hofmann.
Although Barr is the interim dean, he said he plans on setting up the libraries for whoever takes his spot succeeding him.
“I see my duty in the short term as understanding the library and really getting a good grasp on what goes on there. What are the issues? What are the strengths? How can we capitalize on the strengths and then, moving forward, understanding some of that,” said Barr.
With cost-saving initiatives put into place campuswide, the library has struggled with budget cuts, one of them being poor building infrastructure issues such as poor electricity, window leaks, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) noncompliance issues, lack of modular furniture and study rooms with no soundproofing and bad airflow, according to Hofmann.
“Administration is not investing in the library. … The lack of support to the libraries feels like it goes deeper than financial problems,” said Hofmann.
Hofmann and Whitfield both agreed that the biggest effect on students is the cut of hours, one specific instance being the library now closed on Saturday’s.
“This is actually an era where more librarians are needed, not less, because there’s more information out there than before,” said Whitfield.
“Change and innovation needs leadership, vision and investments — all of which we need,” said Hofmann.