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[whitespace] Gown v. Town

San Jose--In some circles, San Jose's Martin Luther King, Jr. Main Library is a laughing stock. Its 115,000 square feet of floorspace makes it one-third the size of San Francisco's main library. As a research center, it hardly measures up to public libraries in much smaller Bay Area cities.

Understandably, city officials been under pressure to improve the situation. The San Jose State faculty leadership of Save Our University Library (SOUL) believes the mayor and city council are trying to solve their library problem at the expense of San Jose State students.

"The politicians want the collection," says history professor and SOUL president Bruce Reynolds. "They've been criticized for having an inadequate collection, and if they can get ours for almost no cost, its a feather in their cap."

Reynolds and his group are opposed to what is tentatively being called either the City University Joint Library or the San Jose Metropolitan Library. The project, slated to be built with $70 million in city funds and $101 million from SJSU, would ostensibly serve both city users and San Jose State students.

The facility would be located at the corner of Fourth Street and San Fernando Street--adjacent to the new city hall complex. At 495,000 square feet, it would significantly expand the space available to both libraries.

As the planning of the library has proceeded, Reynolds and the members of his group have advocated that the new facility be split, with city users having only limited access to SJSU's million-volume collection. But now that the plans are being hammered out in a Memorandum of Understanding, they believe students will be big losers in the deal.

The city is adamant that city users have access to all university volumes, computer terminals and work spaces. Darrell Dearborn, assistant city manager, says he expects the integration of the two libraries to almost completely comprehensive.

"Theoretically, there could be an activity so unique and specialized the university would not want the general public in the space," Dearborn says. "That's never been raised by the university and I'm hard pressed to think of any category that would justify the physical exclusion of the general public from a space."

Reynolds points out that the city library has very different regulations for checking out books than the university. City cardholders need only a picture ID and a California address to check out as many as 25 books at a time. He says that will lead to missing books for students doing research.

Robert Caret, president of SJSU, supports the plan as is. But he says there are already some assurances built into the plan that will protect students' access to materials.

"We understand the fear," Caret says. "There are going to be some parts of the library that are off-limits like archival rooms and special research rooms like Beethoven and Steinbeck. We designed the building so the lower levels will be busiest. There will be a natural architectural separation."

The city has made it clear, however, that every city user should have access to every place in the new library at any time.

"Essentially the building is going to be open to everyone in all spaces," Dearborn says.

Not quite, says Caret. "People will have the ability to walk wherever they want," he says. "[However,] there will be reserve rooms where faculty puts a book for a class. You would have to be enrolled in the class to get in."

Reynolds says the discrepancy results from Dearborn reassuring Mayor Susan Hammer, who, he says, wants an improved city library to be part of her legacy. And he says Caret is trying to reassure skeptics on campus.

Both partners in the joint project recognize that this innovative collaboration plan--the only one like it in the country--is the only way for either entity to afford a facility of this size and quality.

"Libraries are all average-to-mediocre now because we can't afford to run them," Caret says. "We can't run them the way we've been running them or we're going to find ourselves with libraries that aren't worth having."

But without protections for the university collections and study space, Reynolds says, the city gets far more out of the deal than the students. Imagine, he says, if students have to wait to get on a computer for a teenager to finish browsing the Internet or checking email.

"From my perspective, it would be best to kill the thing," Reynolds says.

Killing it, says Caret, would mean no new library for the university for the foreseeable future. All of the money the University expects to get from the state--$90 million--is contingent on the partnership. Fine, say the opponents. Let the state keep the money, and let the university keep the present students-only library.
Michael Learmonth

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