Dorothy Drake Wing of Denison Library Closed

The Dorothy Drake wing of the Ella Strong Denison Library at Scripps College was shut down for financial reasons in June.

According to Judy Sahak, the Director of the Ella Strong Denison Library, the process leading up to the closure of the wing began six years ago when the Council of Presidents agreed to initiate a study to examine the individual colleges’ libraries, aiming to help make the transition from printed materials to electronic materials.

The initiative to examine the libraries collectively included bringing in architectural consultants who reported on the conditions of the individual college libraries. The reports indicated that Honnold-Mudd Library should be renovated and an off-site storage facility should be built, and that it might be best to close individual campus libraries and consolidate all library operations in Honnold-Mudd, Sahak said.

She added administrators already had a “vague notion” that some libraries should be closed before the architectural consultants came to do their evaluation. However, she said the economic downturn of the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009 became one of the primary reasons for shutting down the Dorothy Drake Wing.

According to Sahak, the Claremont University Consotium Council of Presidents met in the spring of 2009 to announce several budget-related decisions, one of which was to stop funding Denison, as well as Pomona’s and Harvey Mudd’s science libraries, in June 2010, with the intent to consolidate all circulatory items at Honnold-Mudd.

While Pomona and Harvey Mudd chose to shut down their libraries, the Dean of Faculty at Scripps released a memorandum in 2009 stating that Scripps would begin privately funding the Denison library “in support of learning and teaching at Scripps,” Sahak said.

However, she said, the Dorothy Drake wing of Denison consists of four floors and is quite large, meaning the cost to air condition, heat, and light the building would be astronomical.

“[It was decided] to close the [Dorothy Drake] wing and concentrate on the [the Kaufmann wing],” Sahak said.

A committee was then created to determine what purpose the Dorothy Drake wing could serve for Scripps.

“That committee, without coming up with any specifics, said that [the wing would be most suitable for] academic purposes,” Sahak said. She acknowledged that the term “academic purposes” was vague and could mean a number of things.

“Academic purposes can mean faculty offices, it can mean exhibition space, it could mean classrooms, perhaps a seminar room, and perhaps a research center,” she said.

The wing, named after Dorothy Drake, librarian at the Ella Strong Denison library from 1938 to 1970, has not been slated for specific renovation plans yet, but Sahak would like to see the wing used in ways that engage faculty and students together.

“To pay honor to [Dorothy Drake’s] memory, I’ve always maintained that it should be a lively place where students and faculty and other people can come together and do interesting things,” she said. “I know there is a need for faculty offices, and that [the wing] can be a blend of faculty offices and research and exhibition and presentation, but my preference is that it be used for academic purposes in a very lively, very engaged kind of way.”

Some students are upset that the Drake wing is closing. Since the wing had four floors and ample areas for studying, closing it has significantly decreased study space avalaible at Scripps.

“There’s a lot of anxiety come finals, especially [that] there won’t be enough quiet spaces,” said Jessica Burrus SC ’11, who has worked at the Ella Strong Denison library since her first year at Scripps. She said that even last year, when the wing was still open, the library often became overcrowded.

“There is a large proportion of the community that loved the study space even if they weren’t utilizing the books,” Burrus said. “I loved it the way it was.”

She added that many students have been disappointed in part because the library’s functionality has been diminished.

“It was important to us to have Denison not be just another beautiful building on Scripps—an empty shell—[but] that it would be something of substance, it would be vibrant, that there would be circulating collections going on in there,” she said. “And that is where a lot of the emotions came from regarding the changes. We don’t want to just have pretty buildings that don’t have anything inside.”

While the library will now offer less space and fewer resources, the Kaufmann wing is thriving and there are still many places to study, including the courtyard, which connects the two wings. The Kaufmann wing has retained bound journals and other books, including the MacPherson collection, a women’s studies collection, and the special collections and archives.

While only the Dorothy Drake wing has been shut down, Burrus said that many students are confused about what the current situation is at the library, and that some think it is completely closed.

“We’re trying to really get involved in the Scripps Student Government Snack Time and things like that to get the message out that we are open and have our book sale just like every year and stuff like that,” Burrus said. “It’s trying to get the message out that we’re still part of the community.”

Though Sahak has worked extensively with faculty in previous years, she is working especially hard to integrate the Denison library’s rare primary source documents into various curricula at Scripps this year. She said that she is exhibiting a letter written by Virginia Woolf to T.S. Eliot to two sections of a Writing 50 class.

“That’s the kind of special primary resource we really want to integrate into the curriculum,” Sahak said.

There will be a book sale on Oct. 21 and 22 at the Ella Strong Denison library, and Sahak said the library is still doing programming for the community and that she is “hoping to bring in a lecturer to talk…about the major donor of the special collections.”

“My understanding is, and my deep desire is, that this building will continue as a library for the foreseeable future,” Sahak said.

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