Archive center stays in limbo

Joel Sawyer

Gov. Carlson’s State of the State address Thursday failed to resolve the future of one of the University’s top building projects.
The library and archive center that is supposed to solve the University’s library storage needs and serve as a statewide repository of knowledge might not be built — at least not in its present form — because of a decision made by Carlson to eliminate the center’s funding.
The $38.5 million allocated by the state Legislature for the Minnesota Library Access Center approved as part of last spring’s state bonding bill was taken away last November after Carlson deemed the facility unworthy of support, even though he had earlier recommended it. If ever built, the center will allow the University and libraries across the state to store less heavily used collections in a technologically advanced, climate-controlled, underground archive facility.
The center, which would be built next to Willey Hall, would also free- up additional reading and study space in libraries unable to find storage space for growing collections.
“Clearly, if you’re a library user, you know how crowded for space we are,” said University librarian Tom Shaughnessy, who serves as the central administrator for the school’s libraries. “This facility is a very wise answer to library space needs.”
Carlson’s decision was based on recommendations made by a task force charged with reviewing capital projects passed in the legislature’s 1996 Bonding Bill. The task force decided in late November that because of a number of unanswered questions with the project, bonding for the center should not proceed.
Although the state had final approval over the bonds, the bonds would have been issued by the University, which would have been liable for the debts.
The task force’s findings and Carlson’s turnabout upset University officials who were sure the project had been given the green light.
“The task force came to the campus in late August and we thought that we’d answered all their questions,” Shaughnessy said. “We thought we were home free.”
But after three more months of investigation, the task force members said they couldn’t justify the expense of the project.
“Thirty-eight million (dollars) is a hell of a lot of money,” said State Finance Commissioner Wayne Simoneau. “For that kind of money, we should get a lot more than we’re getting.”
The task force concluded that the University was taking care of current, rather than future needs, and wasn’t sufficiently integrating digital technologies, such as distance learning, into the center.
“The library should be planning for library needs of the future, for the needs of 2000 and beyond,” Simoneau said.
Carlson said Thursday that he wanted to work with University President-elect Mark Yudof in making the school a leader in digital technology. The center would play a big role in advancing that technology, according to the governor’s office.
“The governor wants to work with Yudof to ensure that the Library Access Center is one of the best in the country, if not the world,” said Brian Dietz, Carlson’s communications coordinator.
University officials denied the claim that the center isn’t as technologically advanced as it should be.
“We’ve got (digital technologies) four-square in the planning,” Shaughnessy said. “Our Library Access Center is the key to moving the University into the digital age.”
In addition to a technological infrastructure that includes fiber-optic cabling, text digitizing and Internet access, current plans for the center include: facilities for research, instruction and distance learning.
“It has it all there,” Shaughnessy said.
The task force also claimed the center would only benefit the University, not the state as a whole.
Shaughnessy denied that claim, saying that nearly 20 percent of all University library-users are not affiliated with the school.
The center’s archives will be excavated out of sandstone caverns on the University’s West Bank campus. The rationale for underground storage is that it is easier to control humidity and temperature than in above-ground facilities.
University officials also defend the design of the plan, saying the center would take care of the school’s library needs for years to come.
Dietz added that the project will not be given high priority, but that Carlson and University officials — including Yudof and University President Nils Hasselmo — would keep talking.
Hasselmo said he was perplexed by the delay, but remains hopeful.
“We’ve received their questions and responded to their questions, and I trust we can get this (taken care of) quickly.”