The University recently asserted its ownership over the wealth of books in Olin by placing a swipe-access lock on the door. As of now, you will need a Wesleyan ID or special permission to enter the library after 9 p.m. on Monday to Thursday and after 6 p.m. on Friday to Sunday. University Librarian Daniel Cherubin gave pragmatic reasons for this decision, citing safety concerns for student workers at night. What he has failed to justify, however, is that at the end of the day (literally), this lock is a message to the residents of Middletown and general public: their right to the information within Olin is privileged.
Several voices have been actively opposing the administration’s decision to limit Olin access, such as Middletown Potluck, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Veg Out, as discussed in The Argus’ news article last week. These groups came together to write a petition listing three central grievances: “Unjust Monopoly of Access to Space and Resources,” “Increased State of Surveillance in the Name of ‘Safety,’” and “Continuous Neglect of Disability Rights.”
While all these points are valid, it is the monopolizing of resources that remains the strongest argument against the lock with respect to the community at large. The decision to restrict access based on whether or not you are a Wesleyan affiliate clearly dichotomizes who has a right to the library and those who are given the privilege.
Cherubin’s chief response to this argument has been based on a comparison of Olin’s hours to the rest of the community.
“I should point out that our ‘swipe only’ hours still have us open to the larger community longer than other academic and public libraries in the region,” he wrote in an email to The Argus.
This notion that Olin is still more accessible than other institutions, however, only furthers the idea that the library is a service or, in other words, a charitable act for the town community. Essentially, Cherubin centers one of his central arguments around the idea that Wesleyan is being generous enough with the access now. It does not seem to occur to him how ignorantly wealthy this sounds, like the University is some magnanimous benefactor separate of the community, and that it can remove itself at any time it likes.
Another suspicious element is the timing of this decision. As quoted in an Argus article last week, worker security has been a concern of Cherubin’s since his arrival at the University.
“When I arrived at Wesleyan last summer, I had been informed that there had been various incidents in Olin in the evenings, mainly involving theft of items or unsolicited encounters.”
Although, like every statement released by the Library, there is no empirical data to back up this claim, it seems likely that winter would have attracted more strangers indoors. If this has been a long-term issue, does it not seem irresponsible of the library to have been putting students at risk for these past semesters, or however long this has been going on? So why is now the time the school chooses to implement the lock?
There is a long history of the University and its various constituents implementing contentious policies towards the end of the school year when finals begin and students start to leave campus. A prominent, recent example of this is the decision of Wesleyan’s cleaning organization, which at the time was called Sun Services LLC, to fire 10 workers at the start of the summer in 2013. With the students already gone, the workers fought the cuts futilely, as this Middletown Press article discusses. While it could never be confirmed that Cherubin made such a calculated decision, the choice of late spring is unequivocally convenient.
Cherubin’s strongest argument is that the lock protects the safety of the workers, but does it? As the University Librarian explained in last week’s article, those in the library before nine will not be forcibly removed. It’s also not very hard to wait five minutes outside of a door for a student to pass and let you in.
Also, if Cherubin is not actually going to specify any incidents, why is he so eager to blame the Middletown community? As discussed in the petition mentioned above, the swipe-access decision furthers a sinister ongoing perception of the public as more violent than Wesleyan students.
From his school-wide email, it appears that Cherubin did not even consider less discriminatory measures to ensure safety. The message read as follows:
“After a general discussion regarding safety and public access with members of the Wesleyan community, including student workers in the library, Olin will join other buildings on campus in having card-swipe access in the evenings, effective immediately.”
The safety of Olin’s workers is important, but there are other, better, ways to ensure this than locking the doors. As opposed to so readily barring the door, the University could have considered options such as increased presence of Public Safety or an alarm system. Naturally, these measures would be more expensive, which leads one to ask: has the University chosen to discriminate against non-University students to save money?
This question of economics hints at much larger potential scheme of the University’s increasing emphasis on community engagement. As Wesleyan moves its bookstore into town, where there is more foot traffic to make sales, the readiness to lock the public out of a space where books are free leads one to question if the University’s desire to work with Middletown is not solely for profit.
Middletown Potluck will be hosting an event from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8 to help spread awareness of the effects of Olin’s new lock, as well as solicit signatures for their petition to have it removed.