To:      Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C, President
            Dr. Thomas G. Burish, Provost 
            Dr. Robert J. Bernhard, Vice-President for Research
            Mr. Richard C. Notebaert, Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Date: July 10, 2009

We, the undersigned graduate and undergraduate students of the University of Notre Dame, petition you to undertake prompt and decisive action for the reform of the Hesburgh Library.  Even if undertaken properly, the proposed renovation of the first two floors of the library building, by itself, would fail to address the critical problems facing an institution vital to Notre Dame’s academic mission and its evolution as a research university. 

These problems include the insufficient acquisition of printed materials and an inadequate number of professional staff.  Because of these shortcomings, our library has failed to keep pace with Notre Dame’s growth as a university and with other university libraries nationally.  The most recent statistics from the Association of Research Libraries expose the neglect our library has suffered over the past decade.  Among U.S. research universities, Notre Dame’s library ranks 34th in acquisition expenditure, 49th in the number of volumes added per year, 50th in total operating expenditures, 56th in the total number of volumes, and 65th in the size of our professional staff.  While other universities have increased acquisitions in recent years, Notre Dame has regressed.  In 2001, we added 102,000 volumes.  Since then our acquisitions have declined steadily, falling to 76,000 by 2008.  Our national ranking in this category fell from 27th to 49th in only the past seven years.      

To put this figure in perspective, Notre Dame now trails seven of the eight schools in the Ivy League and all but one of the eleven schools in the Big Ten.  Moreover, the number of volumes Notre Dame added last year represents only one-seventh of Columbia’s effort (547,000 volumes), one-fourth of Harvard’s (320,000), and less than half of Princeton’s (174,000), despite the fact that these universities already have libraries vastly larger than our own.  We are likewise outspent on acquisitions by several private universities with smaller endowments than ours, among them Cornell, Duke, and Johns Hopkins.  Over the past two decades, Notre Dame’s library has been surpassed by Brigham Young, Cincinnati, and Florida State.  Our library remains smaller than those of Hawaii, Louisiana State, and Wayne State.  To compound our problems, we have been losing essential staff, most recently our bibliographer for Classics, Byzantine Studies, and European History, who is leaving Notre Dame for Princeton.  Indeed, the accumulation of so many fields in the hands of one single bibliographer, however capable, demonstrates the under-funding and neglect of our collections.

Notre Dame considers itself a top-tier institution and we are among the ten wealthiest private universities in the country.  All the more does this neglect represent a betrayal of the Catholic intellectual tradition we claim to champion.  Central to this tradition are the liberal arts, through which Notre Dame has the best chance to become academically distinguished while remaining distinctively Catholic.  A research library is to the social sciences and humanities what a laboratory is to the natural sciences.  It is essential to virtually every leading university grounded in the liberal arts.  The mismanagement of the library thus remains the greatest impediment to the realization of Notre Dame’s mission.  It hampers faculty research and graduate student training.  It also undermines attempts to enhance research opportunities for Notre Dame undergraduates, who are denied the chance to study in an actual research library, a formative experience many of our counterparts in the Ivy League or the Big Ten can take for granted. 

To remedy this situation, we request that you make it a priority to transform the Hesburgh Library, making it the equal of our peer institutions. Our library has entered the digital age, but computerized resources can only supplement collections of printed materials.  They cannot, by themselves, replace the printed word, especially in many of the fields in which Notre Dame hopes to achieve pre-eminence.  The time has come to address the quality and quantity of our collections.

We therefore petition you to undertake the following necessary reforms:

First, Notre Dame must redouble its efforts to acquire books and other materials.  This means expanding our annual materials budget from the current $11.6 million to at least $25 million and increasing the number of volumes added per year to a minimum of 250,000, simply to catch up to the dozens of other universities that outclass our library of 3.4 million volumes.  We must set clear goals, striving to reach 6 million volumes by 2020 and 8 million by 2030.  Considering that North Carolina State’s library more than trebled in size between 1987 and 2007, from 1.2 to 3.9 million volumes, such an expansion is within the means of a university with our resources.  These efforts are necessary to close the gap with the libraries of other research universities as they continue to grow in the years ahead.  Twenty years ago, only Harvard had more than 10 million volumes.  Today, there are six such universities.  At present rate, more than a dozen universities will reach this milestone by 2030, while Notre Dame will have barely reached 5 million.  As a major university in our own right, we can no longer use the inter-library loan system as an excuse to avoid building up our own collections.    

Second, Notre Dame must hire the professional library staff required to build a permanent scholarly infrastructure and to assist the faculty in developing our graduate and undergraduate programs.  It is imperative that we replace the staff we have already lost as soon as possible.  Additional hires must closely parallel the needs of our departments and research institutes. 

Third, only when these twin problems are addressed can we usefully consider renovation of the entire library building.  Here, academic needs must be prioritized, with provisions for an expanded computer lab and acquisition shelves, a dissertation office, modernized seminar classrooms, an audio-visual section, additional study carrels, a depository for less frequently-used volumes, and possibly a Philosophy and Classics reference room.  These efforts will require both a permanent increase in the library’s annual funding, plus a substantial one-time investment, on the same scale as other recent campaigns, such as the Jordan Hall of Science ($70 million) or Stinson-Remick Hall ($69 million).

Our growing research needs and the expansion of our graduate and undergraduate programs require the commensurate enhancement of the library.  Only a campaign of this scale can realize Notre Dame’s aspiration of being a leading center of both Catholic and humanistic thought.  We must reject the temptation to bury our talents or to hide our lamps under bushel baskets in the complacency of being just a “good” Midwestern school.  Let us strive for excellence in deed and not just word. 

The excellence we seek requires the same resolve that sustained the Holy Cross priests who established this university 167 years ago.  Like Fr. Sorin, we too must see shortcomings and setbacks as opportunities for growth and renewal.  The relative position of our library has deteriorated in recent years, trailing more universities than ever in our modern history.  Let us turn this dire situation into an opportunity, for the pursuit of excellence and for the attainment of Notre Dame’s highest potential.          

Respectfully submitted,

Status for the 2009-2010 Academic Year (e.g. Graduate Student, Junior, Senior, etc.)

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