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University Library should have open access for everybody

University Library should have open access for everybody

Photographer:Fotograaf: Observant

Opinion article

The University Library’s new access policy - only to UM students and staff - is a mistakeargue Stephanie Blom, Giulia Frinzi and Saskia Stolk from the Law Faculty. They call the policy elitist, unsympathetic and in clear contrast with the historical background and founding principles of Maastricht University.

According to the UM’s Open Access policy, ‘Maastricht University embraces the concepts of an open access and open science to further strengthen the connections with our environment regionally, nationally and internationally.’ Apparently, this enthusiasm only relates to the university’s research output and not to the vast collections of academic and historical sources it houses in both the Randwyck and ICL libraries. As per 1 January 2019 the University of Maastricht has decided to limit access to its libraries to UM students and staff, not only during exams’ period, but at all times. At 26 April the new turnstiles were officially ‘opened’. This policy is misguided and elitist for a variety of reasons.

According to the Library’s Information Team, the turnstiles are a measure to cope with the ‘ever-increasing pressure’ on the University’s services. This justification begs the question: where does this supposed increased pressure on University facilities come from? The University’s student population has not grown substantially since 2013, nor can this pressure be attributed to the influx of non-UM students/staff. The latter was marginal at best before this measure was put in place and therefore definitely not enough to contribute significantly to the purported increasing pressure. While writing this article, the trackers are mysteriously and unfortunately down, however it has always been a noticeable trend for the library to only become excessively crowded throughout the last week of each period and exams’ week, during which entrance to the library was already limited to UM students/staff. It follows that the only consequence of this policy is the exclusion of the general population from free fruition of its sources and the possibility of self-education, whilst effectively not relieving any pressure from the University’s facilities and services.

In sum, the library’s new stance seems a short-term fix to pacify students’ demands for more study spots that have recently become more vocal (and no, you do not pay tuition fees to access the library, you pay tuition fees for access to education). This Draconian measure is especially puzzling considering that the Tapijnkazerne is currently being renovated with a view to transfer part of the University library to that location and to add further study spaces in a phased approach between 2019 and 2023.

Setting aside practical considerations, there are principled objections to be made against impeding access to the general population. Maastricht University was founded in 1976, at a time Southern-Limburg was hit hard by the closing of the mines, an industry the province of Limburg as a whole had primarily depended on for generations – resulting in a hardworking, but poorly educated provincial population. To compensate the province for the loss of income and employment from the mining industry, and realizing that the region needed thorough economic restructuring to keep up with the rest of the country, Parliament decided to grant Maastricht the honour of opening the country’s eighth medical faculty, which would eventually grow into today’s Maastricht University. With this in mind, the access restriction of the University’s libraries is in clear contrast with the historical background and founding principles of Maastricht University.

In addition, in a society where the single biggest factor in determining social mobility is education, it seems unjust, unsympathetic and elitist to limit anyone’s opportunities for autonomous development and education. An institutional collection, such as the University’s, should also be available for use by those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot or choose not to enroll in higher education or purchase a vast and expensive collection of books and journal subscriptions.

While it is fully understandable that the UM feels the need to safeguard enough study spots and educational and research support for its student and staff, restricting access to the libraries at all times contributes only marginally to reaching this goal, whilst also being unacceptable in principle. The purpose of a university library goes beyond being a comfortable study facility and social hub for ambitious UM students, at heart it is a source of knowledge open to everyone, including the public of Maastricht and the wider region of Southern-Limburg. And it should remain that way.

Stephanie Blom (Lecturer in Law), Giulia Frinzi (student) & Saskia Stolk (student), all linked to the European Law School






2019-05-08: Mark Graus
Very nicely written piece. Especially in our current political climate, where the opinion towards science is becoming increasingly negative, making scientific content less accessible will only increase this downward trend.
2019-05-08: notpicnic
bizar, weer 'n publieke universiteit die de toegang tot haar publieke bibliotheek voor haar goegemeente onmogelijk maakt ...

en een toekomstvisie

2019-05-09: Nicole Adams-Quackenbush
Nicely done! Access to libraries is important for community relations and education. Hiding that information from the public goes against everything universities (especially Dutch Universities) seem to stand for. Thank you for speaking out!
2019-05-15: Oaknut
Your opinionated article is an interesting read. I would agree with you on your views if the library was the same as it was 30 years ago. Times have changed however - where the library used to be a place where books could be lent, it has now become a place for people to study and meet. UM students aren't the only people who use the study spaces at the libraries; high school students, students from Liege and Zuyd students also use these. But UM students should get priority, as it's their library. The only way to enforce that rule is by placing turnstiles, and checking who comes in. People can go in if they like, although they will need to make an appointment. Non-UM visitors tend to violate the UM's policies for the library,
So what if there is space, should we still allow other students in? It's always been the case that people need UM credentials to borrow books, use the printers/scanners and use the internet (limited day-code available on request). So the only reason why non-UM visitors would use the library is for the study spaces; ie, a desk, chair and wall socket to charge a laptop. Since these amenities are available at many different places (public libraries, at home, at school, Brandweer, Teazone, etc.), why can't these people just go to a different location?

I am a UM student. I don't study in the library mainly because I find it too busy. I visit the libraries often and some friends of mine work there, others study there. They're positive about the change. There's more space, there's less noise, and there's less riff-raff.

All in all, while I do think the university needs to be open, and I believe the UM does still follow to the open-access policy (which is separate from the turnspike-policy), I also believe there are many alternatives for non-UM people to use study spaces around the city, and that the UM has the right to enforce the new policy.
2019-05-19: Sally Wyatt
Thanks to the authors for raising this important point. I find it embarrassing to work for a university that is so inconsistent in its stated commitment to open access. As researchers we are increasingly exhorted to make our publications and data open to people around the world (often at great cost in terms of time and money), but the resources of the library (also paid for by public money) are no longer open to the people of Maastricht. Apparently it is possible to get access – for 10 euros a DAY. No monthly or annual membership is possible according to the website.

I have just returned from a conference held in the University of Warsaw library. It is spectacularly beautiful but, more importantly, it takes its commitment to open access seriously. There is space for library users with children. And, for a mere 20 zloties (currently less than 5 euros) per YEAR, one can get access to the entire collection, both physical and digital. The University of Warsaw is considerably larger than Maastricht (over 60,000 students), and the city of Warsaw is certainly bigger. Yet there, the University continues to take its responsibilities for making knowledge genuinely accessible to the local population.

Even Oxford, possibly one of the most elitist universities in the world, allows people access to its extensive library system for 38 pounds (about 43 euros) per YEAR. And, challenging its elitist image, it is free for people who are retired or unemployed.

I hope those responsible for introducing this damaging policy will reconsider. It is damaging to UM’s open access policies, and to its relationships with the people of Maastricht and Limburg.
2020-10-15: Fenora Mc Kiernan
I very much agree with this article. When the library first limited access I found myself disgusted with the close minded selfishness of the decision to exclude people with curious minds from accessing knowledge. It goes against everything the university preaches to create barriers to education, and I am incredibly disappointed with this choice.

In times of corona, all university buildings have carded entries, but I would like to see this decision revoked, or at least a compromise made to allow open access to the library once the pandemic is no longer urgent.

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