Early last week, physics students began protesting College plans to convert the Physics-Optics-Astronomy (POA) Library into a state of the art computer lab for first-year engineering students.

The POA, located on the third floor of Bausch and Lomb Hall, is one of the most visited department libraries on campus. The library houses books and journals specializing in physics, optics and astronomy and provides tutoring from the Society of Physics students.

On Tuesday afternoon, Peter Lennie, Dean of the College Faculty, confirmed that part of the POA is under consideration to accommodate the computer lab for enginer.

Lennie emphasized that only the part of the POA library that contains the stacks is under consideration.

‘No [final] decision has been made about where to locate [the computer lab],” Lennie said. ‘The decision will depend both on the potential impact on the current users of the space, and on costs, which we do not yet know we are gathering information about potential costs.”

While the POA largely serves physics majors, according to Professor Nicholas Bigelow, head of the Physics Department, as many as 800-900 students per year go through physics classes and have access to tutoring support at the POA.

‘I have been assured that about one-third of the POA space would be preserved for us, for example as a reading room that would support the current uses of POA by our students,” Bigelow wrote in a statement to physics and astronomy majors on March 15.

Since news has spread that the POA library is potentially closing, Bigelow has received several e-mails from concerned parents, students, faculty and alumni. He is not surprised by the strong community reaction.

‘The library is a centerpiece for our majors, non-majors and tutoring,” Bigelow said. ‘A good culture like that is hard to build, easy to break.”

According to Associate Dean of River Campus Public Services and Collections Development Katharine Clark, the plan is to convert the POA Library into a state of the art computer lab with 50 computers and seating for approximately 100 students for the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The new computer lab is part of the Hajim School of Engineering’s plans to strengthen the first-year undergraduate engineering curriculum.

The plan is to launch the new, required computer-based course for all freshman engineering students in the spring of 2011.

The course will be part of a series of initiatives designed to inspire students to stay in engineering.

‘I want to make it clear that this is not about the library saving money, cutting staff or anything like that,” Clark said.

According to Clark, if construction and facilities plans for the computer lab are approved, books could be moved from the POA as early as this summer. All the books will be moved to the ground floor of Carlson Science and Engineering library.

Journals will be moved off-site but people can still request specific articles or come to the storage facility and access the print material. Many print subscriptions of journals will be suspended in favor of electronic access. The library staff from the POA will also move to Carlson.

In response to the announcement of potentially closing the POA Library, physics students began fliering the campus, e-mailing the administration and protesting on Facebook. As of printing more than 450 students, faculty, parents and alumni have joined the group ‘Fight for the POA Library.” The group information states ‘Remember: They aren’t just removing a Library; they are displacing a community.” Several alumni and faculty have also posted their support on the group’s page.

Corey Adams, president of the Society for Physics Students (SPS) was dismayed that physics students were not involved earlier in the decision making process.

‘As physics students our main goal has been to preserve the POA, and we realized very early on that it is not our fight to tell them to put their lab elsewhere, but to tell them they can’t touch our library,” he said in an e-mail statement.

In response to increased student concerns over the last week, Deans Feldman and Lennie will meet with representatives from SPS to discuss plans for the space.

Many students argue that the POA’s value goes beyond access to books and fear any change will disrupt a unique academic environment that is hard to find elsewhere on campus.

They believe the combination of books, coffee, access to tutors, graduate students and professors all centrally located in Bausch and Lomb make the POA Library a nucleus of physics-related activity. Meridian, Physics and Astronomy major and senior Laura Arnold highlights the POA on her tours of the University.

‘If anything, there should be more libraries like the POA, not less,” Arnold said.

Math and biology major and senior Michael Cypress has worked at the POA for the last two years. Even though he is not a physics major, he enjoys studying within the collaborative environment.

He points out that many faculty and graduate students are accessible at all hours of the day and alumni are deeply invested in the POA community.

‘We have SPS tutoring hours, but even when those are not happening you can find helpful people anywhere in the library,” chemical engineering major and sophomore Brian Castro said.

‘We all want arts, sciences and engineering to thrive,” Bigelow said. ‘We can always adapt to change, but that doesn’t mean we think it’s good or like it.”

Sahay is a member of the class of 2012.

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