Thormodsgard trashes thousands of books

Law library ignites controversy after discarding old books for unclear reasons.

Thousands of books lay in a Dumpster outside of the Thormodsgard Law Library. They were discarded last week. Photo by Chester Beltowski/The Dakota Student.

Last week, students and faculty were puzzled at the two Dumpsters filled with books behind Thormodsgard Law Library.

The books are being weeded out as part of an ongoing process to make the library more digitized.

“The project began in August 2013. We found that it is a national trend for libraries to move toward digitization,” said Rhonda Schwartz, Director of Thormodsgard Law Library.

The committee in charge has carefully determined which books are available through the library’s campus-wide online subscriptions and can therefore be safely withdrawn from the shelves.

After first being offered to libraries in North Dakota, more than 36,000 books have been withdrawn to date, but not all of them were tossed in a dumpster.

“Most of the books are hardcover, so they cannot be recycled, but we had a team tear the covers off of the books so that the pages could be recycled,” Schwartz said.

Half of the books were recycled, but the process became too time consuming, so the rest had to be simply thrown away.

The committee is hoping to finish the transitional process by the end of the semester so it can break ground on a new project to renovate and add on to the law school building.

“It may look like we are only withdrawing from our library, but we are actually adding to it,” said Rob Carolin, Law School Director of Alumni and Public Relations. “We would like to repurpose the space as a better place for teaching and studying.”

Some of the law school’s current needs include a more modern teaching courtroom, more study space for students and medium-sized “case-study” classrooms.

To meet these needs, a construction company has been hired to manage the $11.4 million dollar project of renovations and a 15,000-square-foot addition.

“This project will have long term benefits for UND, its legal students, the public, campus and faculty,” Carolin added.

Although the new library updates are expected to bring positive changes to UND, some faculty are upset that the books are being thrown away.

“Access to knowledge appears to have been limited,” said Kathleen Dixon, Professor of English and Director of Women and Gender Studies. “It seems that some of the books may not exist in electronic form, and it is not clear whether or not all of the books that were digitized are truly accessible to everyone on campus and the public.”

Dixon also expressed concern that the books were not disposed of in the correct process. The Chester Fritz Library’s Policy Statement on the Withdrawal and Disposition of Materials explains that books must first be offered to libraries in the North Dakota and MINITEX systems or dealers who may be interested in purchasing a sufficient number of items. If the books are not taken by those sources, they are supposed to be offered in an advertised library book sale, but this did not happen with the law library’s books.

“The books cannot be donated, but they can be sold,” Dixon said. “Why not let the students and faculty have a chance at keeping the books?”

Kyle Conway, Assistant Professor of English, is one faculty member who would have appreciated a book sale. Conway is interested in Canadian constitutional history and noticed that transcripts of constitutional debates were included in the books that were tossed.

“These books have valuable insight into historical events, and it is surprising that we would have these rare materials at our library,” Conway said. “I doubt that they’ve been digitized, and it makes me sad that they were thrown out without first being offered to people who may have wanted them. I understand that the library needs to save space, but it’s my job to be sad about people throwing away books.”

Emmy Erbes is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].