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