So Why Is VSCS Really Closing Its Libraries?

The president of the soon-to-be Vermont State University, Parwinder Grewal, ruffled some feathers and rattled some bones last week when he announced, with no advance warning, that the system’s libraries would close by July 1. That’s bad enough. What makes it worse is that I can’t figure out why he’s doing this. His public pronouncements don’t add up.

You might think this is a cost-saving move. After all, the VSU merger is being driven largely by costs. The member institutions have been underfunded by the state for decades, to the point where then-Vermont State Colleges chancellor Jeb Spaulding felt compelled in 2020 to suddenly announce the closure of three VSCS campuses. Predictably, the plan was killed. Predictably, he lost his job.

And less than a year later, his successor went before the Legislature and testified that preserving the colleges and campuses would require $203 million over five years — on top of the system’s base appropriation, which at the time was $30.5 million.

So it’d be understandable if Grewal engaged in a little belt-tightening. Or a lot.

But he has not even suggested that closing the libraries will save any money.

Grewal claims the move is responsive to student needs and the changing world of information delivery. For the latter, he seems to rely largely on circulation figures to make his case. Sure, book borrowing is in decline, as are in-person visits. But libraries are still widely used, and circulation is an incomplete measure of a library’s impact. Libraries are quiet places for work or study and tremendous digital resources. For some, they’re the only source of Internet access. They are part of the public commons, which does not need any further diminution. Librarians are far more helpful than a Google search.

On the student needs issue, Grewal depends on an unscientific survey of the student body conducted by SurveyMonkey. It’s a damn flimsy foundation on purely statistical grounds, but there are plenty of other problems as well.

Grewal likely took comfort in one result: When asked whether they used their physical library, 71% said they used their library digitally. Sounds impressive, but 50% said they use the physical library. That means a lot of students use the library both ways. And 50% seems like a large number to simply dismiss. How many other campus buildings are used by half the student population? Not many, that’s for sure.

And the survey showed clearly that libraries are multifaceted resources. When asked what they use the physical library for, 38% said “borrowing/browsing.” Taken from the top, 71% use libraries for “study space,” 69% for “print/copy/scan,” 43% use library computers, and 31% conduct “in-person research.” Ten percent or less access course reserve materials, borrow equipment, and attend events in libraries.

That’s what you call a great community resource that can’t be defined by its book collection alone.

There are two big statistical problems with using this survey to decide anything of consequence. The first is SurveyMonkey, which does nothing more than compile answers from whoever chooses to respond. The second is that barely 10% of all students replied at all!

Combine those two statistical issues, and there’s no way this survey should be driving any consequential decisions.

It makes me think that Grewal wanted to do this anyway, and the survey provided a fig leaf if nothing more. New guy, new institution, trying to emerge from a difficult, mulitlayered transition — let’s make a splash! Let’s do something bold and futuristic!

Also, maybe, let’s do something that sends a signal to the Legislature that some tough decisions are coming if VSU doesn’t get a bump in state funding.

Grewal pointed out that VSU has a far-flung student body, and distance is a problem for in-person use. True enough. On the other hand, you may have heard something about a digital divide? Much of rural Vermont lacks reliable Internet service, which is why we’re pouring hundreds of millions into broadband. But in the meantime, many VSU students will struggle to access a digital-only library.

Unless, that is, they use the library compu — oh wait, never mind.

Finally, it’s rather astonishing that Grewal made this announcement less than five months in advance when VSU has no actual plan for how to use the space or replace lost services and resources. VTDigger:

The buildings themselves will remain open… and could be used for “community commons, enhanced study spaces, student services, and access to other innovations and tools.” The university expects to issue a request-for-proposal “to engage architectural resources for this purpose.

Excuse me, “could be used”? VSU will only now seek design and concept ideas?

What’s really going to happen on July 1? I’ve got two possibilities. One, the buildings will close, probably for months, while the University gets its shit together and decides how to repurpose the space. The other is that the repurposing will be rushed and done on the cheap. (It’s gonna cost money to empty out the library infrastructure and replace it with something new, useful and attractive. Half-assery is definitely on the table.)

Can Grewal pull it off? GIven the limited time available and VSU’s need to hold down expenses, it seems unlikely.

And we still don’t really know why this is happening.


5 thoughts on “So Why Is VSCS Really Closing Its Libraries?

  1. cjrecordvt

    What really gets my goat is that, because CCV shares a library with VTC, we’re sucked into this too. (Which, incidentally, makes the response numbers on that poll even more hilarious.) Our students didn’t use the physical space, obviously, but they certainly received physical media – books, audio, video – in the mail from the libraries. And that all goes poof?

  2. Greg Morgan

    So far I have seen no reference to Champlain College’s move to remove books from the library with the opening of the Miller Information Common in abut 2004. This was a move to an all digital library with minimal books. Some years later, as I remember it, the College partially reversed course and added back hardcover and paperback options. The all digital option wasn’t meeting the needs. I’m thinking a conversation with folks at Champlain about this experiment might informed the State College plan.

  3. K Anne

    It only makes sense if you understand that the UN’s plans for global governance by 2030 is moving forward at breakneck speed. Their “biodiversity” land-use map for the future shows Vermont as almost entirely covered in restricted areas of “no human activity”. The powers that be will continue to use economic regulations, climate fears, and social chaos to herd people out of the state. (According to the UN Agenda, rural life is unsustainable – actually too hard to control.) The colleges have served the “end-game” purpose over the past 60 years for indoctrination and moral, physical, emotional, & intellectual damage of a few generations. Although some with self-control and determination have made it through successfully, many have dulled their senses with drugs, scarred their hearts and souls with the brokenness of casual sex and the tragic loss of their own resulting children and have embraced harmful lies about themselves the world, and life in general. Their hopelessness has been temporarily pacified with addictions & constant entertainment, and as they obediently accept lies and tyranny “for the greater good”, they will immediately turn over their freedoms when told to – they’re trained like Pavlov’s dog. Actual education and intelligent thought is contrary to accomplishing the globalists’ goals.
    Many like you will be shocked to also become relics like the sad libraries, who have served the purpose of the puppet-masters, but will be tossed to the side. Vermont is being transformed and I think you have unfortunately assisted. In order to hold off what’s coming a huge shift in perception is needed, immediately. Sorry.


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