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UMN plans to close Vincent Hall math library by summer 2025

The math library will operate under reduced hours starting this summer as the process begins.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein
A bust of Professor Johannes C. C. Nitsche is on display at the Mathematics Library on Wednesday. Nitsche taught mathematics at the University of Minnesota for 37 years. The College of Science and Engineering plans on transforming the space into a study space for students, though a survey conducted earlier this year shows support for a scaled-down library.

The University of Minnesota plans on closing the Vincent Hall math library by the summer of 2025, though the move is not welcomed by everyone.

According to an announcement on Jan. 24 addressed to the School of Mathematics from the University Libraries, the closure is the result of budgetary pressures on the libraries and the books will be moved to Walter Library starting this summer. 

The College of Science and Engineering (CSE) has plans to transform the space into a student-focused study area, but the move has not received universal support.

CSE Dean Andrew Alleyne said the library administration’s decision to close the library was primarily a result of budget pressures, though low use of the library’s collection also influenced the move.

“There’s low use of the collections, the actual texts, the books and everything that was there,” Alleyne said. “A lot of people use the libraries now more as a study space than a place to get reference materials.”

Alleyne believes the library’s closure will be a good opportunity for CSE.

“One of the things that we have in the college is an increased number of students coming in the College of Science and Engineering,” Alleyne said. “Math tends to be one of the key things that they need to know, and the ability to be successful in math really drives your retention numbers.”

According to Alleyne, the college is looking to transform the math library into a study space to support first-year students and students taking introductory math classes. 

“Functionally, that’s what it’s going to act as, this learning environment that currently we don’t have dedicated for mathematics,” Alleyne said.

Rhonda Zurn, the director of communications and marketing for CSE, said the new space will include a space for teaching assistants to hold office hours, spaces for tutoring and individual and group study spaces.

“Those are kind of the things that are driving the decisions,” Zurn said.

This decision was made after consulting with the college’s leadership and the math department’s leadership and referencing a survey that came out of the math department, according to Alleyne.

“One of the things that was pointed out [in the survey] was that, in terms of use, it is heavily used as a study space and as an undergraduate student space,” Alleyne said.

Dennis Hejhal, the creator of the survey and a professor in the School of Mathematics since 1978, said more than 88% of the 260 students surveyed said they would prefer the retention of a quiet study space if the library is removed.

“This is not a surprise,” Hejhal said. “It’s very important to students. They want this space. They’re paying money to have a quality space.”

However, Hejhal said over 70% of those same 260 students surveyed said they would prefer to also retain at least a scaled-down version of the math library, with 42% saying they strongly preferred this alternative.

“They always omit that part,” Hejhal said. “Why is that? That’s because it doesn’t fit with the plan. It’s an inconvenient truth. I say it matters.”

The survey was conducted from Feb. 9 to March 3, and it allowed students, staff and faculty to share additional thoughts they had on the matter.

Hejhal said the School of Mathematics held a vote among regular faculty members on whether removing the math library’s books would negatively affect the departments ability to maintain a quality educational environment for its students and faculty. With 12 of the 68 faculty members being absent, 67% of those who voted said it would.

According to Carolyn Bishoff, the science and math librarian, the off-site storage, which is currently under construction, is located on Como Avenue near the University’s ReUse center. The ReUse Center is a 45-minute walk from the Vincent Hall math library, according to Google Maps.

“It’s out of the way, but so is Wilson in comparison to Magrath Library,” Bishoff said. “So the movement of materials to the off-site storage facility is not going to be a barrier to people accessing those materials.”

Bishoff said the library has a shipping department that will be responsible for pulling books and delivering them to students, staff and faculty. All of the material will be requestable and the facility will be publicly accessible and include a reading room.

“Anything that goes there will be accessible,” Bishoff said. “It’s to create more room in the libraries because all of the libraries are pretty full.”

Mark Engebretson, the director of advancement for the Libraries Administration, said the materials that would be stored in the storage facility are books used infrequently, a qualifier determined by the librarians.

“Our librarians, they know which books aren’t used and which are, and ones that aren’t used very often are going to be in that facility,” Engebretson said.

According to Hejhal, the physics department had its library moved into Walter years ago. He said students have told him very few people visit the physics collection there to browse books.

“I think if our books wind up in Walter, or worse, the off-site storage, I think this kind of random creative browsing of books is basically going to be non-existent,” Hejhal said. “I don’t think it speaks very well of the University, and I don’t think it speaks very well of fostering mathematical creativity.”

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  • JB
    Apr 19, 2024 at 5:06 pm

    The Natural Resources Library is closing right along with the Math Library. They’re both moving to reduced hours this summer and then shutting down entirely.

    Also… M-A-G-R-A-T-H.

  • Jenzi C Silverman
    Apr 19, 2024 at 3:00 pm

    Aw man, this is sad news! The math library holds a very special place in my heart and mind: as an undergrad, I worked there from 1990-1992 and met my husband there (he was a math major). I appreciate Dr. Hejhal’s advocacy for the library and math students and faculty here though, and I’m glad at least the space will remain as a study and tutoring area for students.

  • Michael Johnson
    Apr 19, 2024 at 9:47 am

    It’s spelled MAGRATH Library, even if it’s pronounced (correctly) as McGraw. C. Peter Magrath was the 11th President of the University, and the St.Paul Main Library was named after him.

  • Naomi
    Apr 19, 2024 at 8:40 am

    Incorrect spelling: it’s Magrath Library, not McGraw.

  • Gina
    Apr 19, 2024 at 8:29 am

    It is a shame to see the library close. I am glad they’re keeping a quiet space for students but it feels so wrong to remove a library. Especially the one for such a crucial subject.