I read with interest your article about the efforts we’re making to rationalize the use of George Washington University’s Gelman Library (“GW Closes the Books,” 6/6). I didn’t know whether to laugh or to weep, since you skip about a lot, so on the one hand we’re applauded for trying to focus our resources more acutely, and on the other hand we’re criticized because the library (according to “library connoisseurs”) isn’t up to snuff. I was reminded of something somebody once said to me years ago when I was working as a waiter in a resort hotel dining room. The arrangement was what was called the “American Plan,” which is to say the meals came with the rooms. One of the guests at my table commented one afternoon that on the one hand the food was rotten, and on the other hand the portions were so small.
As you yourself point out, we’ve been investing more money in the last couple of years to bring the library into even better shape than it’s been in, and we have plans to continue that effort. Surely nobody can blame a university for wanting to make the library as good as it can be. Nor, I think, can someone reasonably criticize a library supported by student tuitionswhich are expensive (and, of course, we’re criticized because tuitions are expensive)for wanting to provide access to the library first and foremost to faculty and students, for whom it is, after all, intended. Once we’ve gotten some comfort that we’re doing right by those primary constituencies, it makes sense then, of course, to be as expansive and as open as our resources will permit to scholars from other institutions, people from the neighborhood, professional and business persons from Washington, etc. “First things first,” as my mother would say.
Libraries like our own, located as we are in the heart of a population-rich residential and equally impacted business community, have got to develop policies distinguishable perhaps from a university located on a suburban or even rural campus in an upstate someplace or another. But I thought it was interesting that nowhere in your article did you comment about what the policies are at other metropolitan institutions in Washington or elsewhere. I confess I don’t even know myself, but if I were writing an article about the subject, I would find out. What do they do over at Georgetown? Or Howard? Or Boston University? Or New York University? Surely that would have been interesting information to have in your article. I know that you do understand the notion of finite resources and the need for an institution to make priorities about the application of its funds, even though you managed to conceal this sympathy in your piece.
As for our efforts on behalf of Foggy Bottom residents, there is no end of GW initiative to try to reach out to our neighbors. Most recently, for example, we built at our own expense on land provided by PEPCO a park. You might want to take a look at it. It’s located on F Street adjacent to the State Plaza Hotel. And about the special tuition waivers we give to senior citizens who live in the Foggy Bottom area you make no comment. Likewise, you don’t say anything about our good works with the School Without Walls, which is located on our campus and is one of the District’s more interesting public high schools. As for Maria Tyler, she won’t be happy until we immolate ourselves. There’s no reconstructing some folks who have, to my everlasting regret, turned their hearts into granite.
George Washington University