SBA RECAP: Dean Wu Defends Wolff Library Changes

gulc_south_quadThe headline event at the Student Bar Association’s meeting on October 4th was a visit by Michelle Wu, Associate Dean for Library Services.  She spent over an hour Tuesday evening discussing the recently announced changes to the Wolff Library space.

Expanding on the email sent to students last month, Wu explained that the Law Center has been battling space problems for at least a decade.  There has been an ongoing, campus-wide effort to more efficiently use already existing campus spaces.

Wu’s reports were relatively light on details.  Indeed, the relocation of the Wolff books to the E.B. Williams library is in its planning stages, and the consultation from Shelpy Bulfinch is needed before any substantive decisions can be made.  Therefore, information as to what the new space will be used for specifically,  when the transition will occur, and how much this will cost is still up in the air.

Wu was able to provide some concrete details.  The collection of international law in Wolff Library will be relocated to the Williams Library, as will the associated staff.  She reassured students that at least some of the two-floor Wolff area will remain 24-hour student space. In fact, Wu reassured students that the amount of available space in Wolff may not decrease.  A survey, conducted by Shepley, will help the school and the firm assess what needs exist, and how best to address them.  Building off that survey, which should be conducted this semester, the Law Center and Sheply will design a plan to repurpose the Wolff space.  Wu also revealed that the school recently confirmed that, using compact shelving, the Wolff collection can fit inside the Williams building.

Much of the discussion’s question-and-answer period featured students voicing their concerns over how the decision to repurpose Wolff was made.  Many students believed that the administration is catering the need to faculty and administrative needs at the expense of student space.  Wu noted that the space changes have been an ongoing effort for years, and are a logistical necessity as the school expands.  While Wu said the school has not increased the number of students, she did admit that visiting faculty simply needs office space in order to visit.  Without this space change, the Law Center would need to rent expensive space from a nearby office building.

Wu was able to assuage some student fears by sharing some of the purposes that the Law Center is considering for Wolff.  She cited the Healy Family Student Center on Georgetown’s main campus as the example of an ideal student space.  Healy hosts a wide variety of student meeting, study and relaxation spaces, as well as dining options.  She also noted that there is a pressing need for more space for the Law Center’s institutions and centers, such as the Center on Privacy & Technology.  Finally, Wu added that experiential learning programs, such as clinics and Barrister’s Council divisions like mock trial and moot court, are in need of improved facilities as well.

Students expressed confusion and concern as to why the libraries needed consolidation in the first place.  In addition to the space needs, Wu expanded upon the notion that having two separate library buildings results in administrative and research inefficiencies.  According to Wu, Georgetown is the only law school with two separate library buildings.  Walking to and from each library can prove frustrating for researchers and staff.  When asked about repurposing parts of the older Williams building rather than the more modern Wolff, Wu noted that the Law Center has already received complaints about non-study uses of Williams producing extra noise, such as the handful of classrooms located in the building.

When asked about the Law Center’s interest in purchasing additional building space for a longer term solution to space issues, she said the administration is constantly looking at its options, which are sure to expand as the Capitol Crossing project nears its completion date of 2020.  She added that the Law Center cannot purchase or lease property on its own.  The School for Continuing Studies, located a few blocks up Massachusetts Avenue,  is an appealing option, said Wu, but the property is currently leased, not owned, by the University.

During the statements section of the discussion, students repeatedly espoused the mental health benefits of having alternative and modern study spaces available to them, considering the study-intensive nature of law school.  Others expressed frustration at the lack of specifics available to students, and the lack of transparency in making the decision to consolidate libraries in the first place.  Students contextualized this lack of transparency with the high cost of law school tuition.

Dean Wu stated that more answers will surely be available after the conclusion of Shepley’s study, and until then, no timeline or start date for the changes could be announced.

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