Last year, while on sabbatical from her professorship at Hampshire College, Michele Hardesty, GSAS ’07, came to depend on the scanners in Butler Library’s Digital Humanities Center, a resource she had access to as an alumna.
She was surprised, then, to learn that she could no longer log in after the University libraries obtained software this summer to better enforce a long-standing policy prohibiting alumni from accessing specialized computer software.
“It wasn’t so much that we changed our policy,” Damon Jaggars, associate University librarian for collections and services, said. “It’s that we’ve instituted the types of technology that allow us to actually make sure our policies are being met.”
Access to the resources in the Digital Humanities Center in Butler Library, as well as in the Digital Science Center in the Science & Engineering Library and the Digital Social Science Center in Lehman Library, is now limited to current students, faculty and staff.
The terms of the University’s education discount do not allow for alumni, Jaggars said.
“If we open it up to the universe of other users, the thousands and thousands of alumni at Columbia, it would be a very different rate card that we would be seeing,” he said.
But Hardesty, who teaches U.S. literature at Hampshire, thinks the stricter policy is shortchanging alumni.
“It’s not a lot of support for people who spent seven years at Columbia, teaching at Columbia,” she said. “I think it should be a priority. I’ve been using the facilities and depend on them.”
Software which alumni will lose access to includes Adobe Design Premium, MATLAB, Mathmatica, and Final Cut Pro, but many said the most upsetting loss is the scanning equipment in Butler.
The only scanning facilities now available to alumni are those located just outside the Digital Humanities Center and in the Periodicals Room on the fourth floor of Butler, neither of which require a UNI to log in. Many alumni have pointed out though that these machines are not as reliable, especially for large projects, and are almost always in use.
Zane Mackin, CC ’01, GSAS ’10, and an employee in the Digital Humanities Center, said that he has noticed more people using the scanners directly outside the facility lately.
Jaggars recognized that overcrowding seems to be a problem and has asked the technical staff of the library to look at usage logs over the next few weeks to verify the complaints.
“It’ll take us a little while to get everything figured out, but we’re on top of it,” he said, adding that he is willing to add memory to the scanners so that they operate better.
“I’m trying to give them [alumni] everything we can, both on the electronic resource side, as well as in our facilities, that still allows us to keep within our legal commitments,” Jaggars said.
Despite these efforts, some alumni still feel marginalized. “Particularly in this day and age, when digital resources are becoming more and more critical to doing research and people are spending more and more time searching for jobs, it seems like Columbia should be encouraging us and making it easier for us,” said Edward Reno, GSAS ’11 and an adjunct professor at Adelphi University. Reno described the decisions by the administration to cut down on alumni access as “horrifying.”
“The main issue, for me, with that change in policy, is that that means new Ph.D.s going into a really tough job market are going to be cut out of access that they need,” Hardesty said.
Mackin pointed out that unemployed alumni are those with perhaps the greatest need for full library access, since they must continue to do research independently while pursuing a career. “We used to serve a lot of alumni,” he said. “It made us feel good to support them.”
“This is about Columbia being a resource not only for its own students,” Reno said, “but about being a resource for the community at large.”