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The Point: You Could Look It Up (Maybe)


Greetings Colleagues,

Here is a simple riddle to get things started:

Q. What is a research university without a fully-functioning library?

A.  Not a fully-functioning research university.

I want to cut right to the chase--the situation at Healey Library is dire: the list of challenges is long, but I would start with staff cuts, a deteriorating physical plant, and a consistently disheartening message from the President’s Office that the library-related needs of students, staff, and faculty simply don’t matter. It is always “infrastructure weak” when it comes to Healey Library. Fancy that! In the middle of a pandemic when faculty and students are relying more and more on the services of the library—the university system has made clear that it is not a priority.

Any discussion of the library has to begin with the building itself: UMB needs a new one. The library at any major research university should be the heart of the campus. This is particularly true of a university with an urban mission, an institution that purports to serve an under-resourced majority-minority community. The library needs to be an inviting and accessible site, a community gathering space, a trove of user-friendly scholarly resources. Imagine if we had a library building that the Campus Center or ISC or University Hall would not be ashamed to be seen with! While we have seen the construction of these beautiful new buildings in recent years, a renovated or brand-new library building is not even mentioned in UMass Boston’s 25-Year Campus Master Plan

The conversation about the library only starts at the physical plant. We also urgently need to address the remarkable deficits in staff and resources that plague the proper functioning of the library. In 2019, UMass Boston spent $60,796 on one-time physical library purchases (physical books and DVDs), while a peer institution, University of Maryland Baltimore County, spent $450,825 and UMass Amherst spent $1,170,039. That same year UMass Boston spent $2,701,982 on library subscriptions (e-journals, databases, streaming media) while UMBC spent $3,286,213 and UMass Amherst spent $7,283,976. When compared to UMBC, UMass Boston serves 15% more FTE students and 37% more FTE faculty with 51% fewer library staff:


2019 Purchases

2019 Subscriptions

UMass Boston



University of Maryland Baltimore County (Peer institution)



UMass Amherst



Even more upsetting than these material realities is the evidence of a radical disinvestment in people. The Healey Library is severely understaffed, which impedes its ability to serve our students and faculty. In 1990, the Healey Library employed 43 FTE library staff. That same year, UMass Boston had a student population of approximately 12,000. In 2020, that number had dropped to 26 FTE library staff, while our student population had grown to nearly 17,000. With little institutional support, the library staff is working heroically to provide students and faculty the support they need--a real herculean effort in the middle of a pandemic. But it is incumbent on all of us to resist the crushing pressure of the explicit and implicit managerial directives to do more with less.

The objective of this issue of The Point is simply to act as a kind of a placeholder and alarm. In the coming weeks you will be hearing quite a bit more from the FSU about various events and initiatives you can participate in as we begin a campaign--in coalition with numerous other campus groups--an effort not simply to “save” Healey but to reimagine it as central to UMB’s scholarly, pedagogical, and social mission.  For now mark May 11th on your calendars (10:30-11:30 a.m.); more details will come soon but  the FSU plans to co-host a forum at that time featuring Interim Dean of the Library Joanne Riley and others, to discuss challenges facing the library.

Dean Joanne Riley made a presentation to the Faculty Council recently in which, among other things, she outlined an inspiring vision for the future.  Dean Riley outlined how Healey could become a welcoming “Library-as-Place” with “expanded resources and services to support anti-racist and health-promoting campus initiatives.” I want to underline and extend this last point: appropriate funding for Healey Library as a site of research, teaching, and community-building is a social justice issue. That the most diverse campus in the UMass system has a dramatically-underfunded library is what systemic racism looks like. The students at UMass Boston (listed as the third-most diverse four year institution in the US according to this report) deserve access to the kind  of world-class library resources  offered to students at UMass Amherst, where only 17% of the student population comes from underrepresented communities.

As librarians, teachers, scholars, antiracist union members! is our duty to take on the work of building a better Healey Library for the benefit of us all.

(Some of the material in this Point was drawn from Dean Riley’s slide presentation, Some notes on the state of the Healey Library)


Jeffrey Melnick

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage