LSU library’s decay is symbolic of Louisiana’s misplaced priorities

 

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Plastic sheeting that protects copies of the Congressional Record in the basement of LSU’s Middleton Library

By Robert Mann

I once volunteered to proctor the state’s LEAP test in a ramshackle, temporary building at a Baton Rouge elementary school. It was so cold inside the students never removed their winter coats. As they worked the test, I examined the room. The building had seen better days. The ceiling tiles caught my eye. Some were badly stained — signs of a leaky roof — and others were about to collapse.

I once volunteered to proctor the state’s LEAP test in a ramshackle, temporary building at a Baton Rouge elementary school. It was so cold inside the students never removed their winter coats. As they worked the test, I examined the room. The building had seen better days. The ceiling tiles caught my eye. Some were badly stained — signs of a leaky roof — and others were about to collapse.

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Stained, damaged carpet on the fourth floor of LSU’s Middleton Library

I remember thinking: “These children surely know that if the adults in this city valued public education, we’d be taking this test in a decent building.” Now, after serving nearly 10 years on the LSU faculty, I have a similar thought whenever I enter the school’s decrepit, five-story Middleton Library, where I have business almost every week: “If the people of Louisiana valued higher education, LSU students wouldn’t have a library that resembles something Madagascar would be ashamed to show a visitor.”

There’s a reason prospective students never receive a tour of the LSU library. One peek, and they would realize the university’s academic common ground is a dump disguised as a library. The prehistoric furniture is nasty. The carpets are worn and stained. Ancient wallpaper is peeling away. The first-floor men’s room is as disgusting as the worst gas station restroom you can imagine. In the basement, plastic sheeting drapes rows of microfilm and copies of the Congressional Record, as protection from a leaking ceiling.

Simply put, LSU’s Middleton Library is an architectural and structural carbuncle. As one student tweeted last December: “Real question, why is Middleton so disgusting right now? There is garbage and unidentifiable wet substances everywhere.”

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Plywood covers a rotted floor between book shelves in the compact stacks area of the basement of LSU’s Middleton Library

On the LSU campus, however, it is the worst of times and the best of times. Only a three-minute walk from the library is a building of far greater importance to the state’s leadership and, apparently, the public.

I speak of the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes. This circa-1930 building once served as the school’s gym/armory. After more than $15 million in private investment, it was reborn in 2002 as the opulent academic common ground for athletes (its massive auditorium is also used for large courses).

The Cox Center rests in the shadow of another building more significant to the state than the library — Tiger Stadium. It’s the Cox Center and the school’s imposing stadium — utilized only 10 to 12 days a year — where the soul of LSU resides. And students and faculty know it.

“If you want to understand what’s most important to a society,” the scholar Joseph Campbell once observed, “don’t examine its art or literature, simply look at its biggest buildings.”

Where the Middleton Library has threadbare, decades-old furniture, the grand Cox Center — outfitted with white marble and hardwood flooring — is filled with the latest and most comfortable furnishings. No expense (it’s all private money) was spared for the comfort and education of the athletes. There is, among other features, the Shaquille O’Neal Life Skills Offices, the Academic Center of Excellence Computer Lab, the Academic Center of Excellence Study Area, theE.D.G.E. Nutrition Station (Eat. Drink. Geaux. Excel — that’s what signage says) and a tutorial center. You can bet that while the Middleton Library is forbidden to high school tours, guides proudly show off the Cox Center to athletic recruits.

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A study area in the LSU Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes

The Cox Center exists because the Athletic Department raised the private money necessary to restore, furnish and maintain the building. And good for them. I don’t resent student-athletes for having wealthy patrons who care about their academic success and provide them a building for such endeavors.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

 

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2 Responses to LSU library’s decay is symbolic of Louisiana’s misplaced priorities

  1. Stephen Winham says:

    In tight budget times during which funding cuts are made indiscriminately (what I call “strangling the budget”), among the first things cut is maintenance. Your column clearly shows the results. It is much easier and of much greater const-benefit to properly maintain infrastructure than to let it erode because the problems multiply and create the domino effect that can be seen in the library. For example, a roof leak doesn’t just erode the roof, it damages everything the water reaches below it. Plumbing problems don’t get better ignored, etc. etc.

    What we need from JBE and the legislature is honest budgeting. Jay Dardenne says that is his goal. When it comes, we can only hope that, regardless of what is cut from the budget – and these need to be real cuts, not general strangling – the remainder is adequately funded.

    An honest budget is good government, but as we enter what we hope will be a new era we need to remember what Uncle Earl said, “Someday Louisiana is going to get good government…and when they do, they ain’t going to like it.”

    As evidenced by the Cox Center, private targeted funding is a great thing, but it is up to the public to fund the greater public needs.

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  2. June Butler says:

    My husband and I worked as graduate assistants at the Middleton Library when the building was relatively new. In fact, that’s where we met. The photos are shocking. That’s what happens when there is no money for maintenance. Shameful.

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