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SUTA: Rutgers libraries are more than just study spaces

Column: The Suta Slant

Rutgers libraries have a number of incredible resources that many students may not know about. – Photo by Pixabay.com

Rutgers is a member of the Big Ten Conference. Of course, there are implications for athletics, especially in bringing Rutgers to a national stage, but there are also academic and institutional implications that are often undervalued.

A university having access to a national stage does not just help recruitment efforts, but it also gives a certain credibility to the university. Not even just credibility, but it creates a certain allure about the university — are the athletics that good? Are the academics that strong?

So, when Rutgers football played Michigan on ABC — broadcasted nationally — a few weeks ago (even despite the heartbreaking loss) made the investments in athletics seem smart: It is always better for the University to have a presence nationally.

Likewise, at the start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Rutgers made national headlines for developing the first Food and Drug Administration-approved saliva test. This achievement spoke to Rutgers’ academics and the institutional ability of the University. 

I begin with these two examples to highlight a point that often goes unnoticed: The Big Ten Conference is an academic alliance just as much as it is an athletic conference.

While competitive on the field, the universities have a certain academic commitment to each other — the Big Ten Academic Alliance.

We can compete but never to the point that it obscures commitments to cooperation and to advancing knowledge. The Academic Alliance makes this clear — that on the field we compete, but off of the field, we are all students of the world trying to make it a better place.

One of the most impotent pieces of the Academic Alliance, to me, is the Library Accessibility Alliance.

As we are in the middle (maybe nearing the end) of midterm season, there has been a massive surge in students going to libraries. Take a stroll by Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus at night, and you will see masses of students keeping themselves busy by working on projects, studying for exams or writing papers.

A library is a great place to study. It is a great place to read. It is even a great place for democracy.

Libraries serve as a fundamental piece to any academic experience. It is fitting, then, that the Academic Alliance would have the Library Accessibility Alliance, where students from any university in the Big Ten Conference can borrow books from any other university in the Conference.

Something more fundamental exists about libraries in terms of academics. To that point, especially, Rutgers’ libraries do not exist as typical libraries.

As a Research I university (academic jargon for saying that we have highly regarded doctoral programs and that our faculty produce a good amount of research), Rutgers’ libraries serve a bit of a different role: They are academic research libraries.

The amount of research conducted at Rutgers makes the libraries have this different role. While they serve the student body, they also need to serve the needs of professors and other researchers. This is where libraries, especially Rutgers’ libraries, get very exciting.

If you are in the library, study, of course. But, if you have time, and if you want to see the breadth of Rutgers’ offerings, venture to look at some of the different things the library has.

The best offering that Alexander Library on the College Avenue Campus has is the Special Collections and University Archives.

I recently had the chance to explore this amazing collection as part of a course.

Rutgers’ tradition of academic excellence dates back to 1766. So, there have been a lot of alumni and others who donate really old books and manuscripts.

Rutgers actually has a collection of incunabulum (books printed before 1500) in this library. Something that is really breathtaking is that the University has bibles preserved with marginal notes that were made before 1500.

For academics, these materials mean something different, but for undergraduates just being situated at a university with such a vast collection underscores the tradition of academic excellence to which we belong. 

Rutgers should celebrate these libraries more often, and they should make the Special Collections and University Archives more accessible because they underscore Rutgers’ own power as an academic institution.

In placing attention on these elements of Rutgers’ offerings, the University will highlight that we are a serious institution both on and off the field.

Rutgers has a lot going on for it, and every aspect should be celebrated. We are all anticipating March Madness, we are all feeling better about the football team. We should celebrate those and take pride in them, but we should also understand and celebrate the academic achievements and capabilities of the University.

Richard Suta is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English and political science with a minor in French. His column, "The Suta Slant," runs on alternate Tuesdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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