“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind,” asserts Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. Hungry for knowledge, Woolf is turned away from the university library by a “kindly gentleman,” simply because she is an unaccompanied woman. Denied entry to this “treasure-house” of information, Woolf must find answers to her intellectual questions elsewhere.
The Core Committee chose A Room of One’s Own as this year’s common reading to encourage first year students to ask complicated questions about gender, physical spaces, and intellectual freedom. In conversation with Woolf’s essay, the Noreen Reale Falcone Library celebrated Open Access Month in a series of events purposefully named “Unlocking the Library” to pay homage to Woolf’s powerful message: to continue seeking answers even if the “treasure-houses” of information are locked.
“Unlocking the Library” asks students to contemplate the implications of Open Access in their personal and academic lives. Tacked up on one of the library walls is a poster that invites students to consider if information should be “Free or for a Fee?” and anonymously jot down their responses on the poster. Next to the front desk is a raffle for an individual study room during finals week, a literal “Room of One’s Own,” encouraging students to consider how we value Woolf’s definition of an “intellectual” space.
To continue the conversation with first year students and the greater Le Moyne community, the library held the panel discussion “Reading, Writing, and Working in the Open,” that dove into the implications of Open Access from the differing perspectives of three panelists. While all agreed Open Access is useful for the dissemination the newest scholarly knowledge, Open Access inevitably boils down to money matters. Just as Woolf in A Room of One’s Own asserts “intellectual freedom depends upon material things,” one Le Moyne student suggested plainly on the library poster: “everything comes with a price.”
Fortunately, Open Access certainly looks much different today than what Woolf would have imagined. She had no computers, tablets, smartphones. She had no internet. She hardly had the ability to go to school and to ask questions from professors. But as Dr. Chris Forster, an assistant professor of English at Syracuse University, asserted at the library’s Open Access panel, Woolf’s rejection still possesses relevance to discussions of Open Access today. “Woolf’s inability to access the library near the start of A Room of One’s Own,” Forster says, “provides a fitting allegory for the benefits of access more broadly.”
So while it is unlikely that Le Moyne students will meet a “kindly gentleman” who turns them away from the library, they are certain to encounter similar experiences, through websites which tantalize students and scholars alike with an insightful excerpt of a journal, only to bar them from reading further without a paying a subscription fee.
As we live in an era so steeped in technology, students now have both the pleasure and the challenge of navigating the new “treasure-house” that is the expanse of the internet--and the ever-changing concept of the library. The difficulty of accessing information is no longer just the physical challenge of Woolf’s locked library, but a more abstract challenge: how to navigate the web and the physical spaces afforded to us. Maneuvering through this vast amount of information will be a challenge for Le Moyne’s Class of 2020, but in the process, they will be constructing “treasure-houses” and a “rooms of their own” within their own minds—as they pick and choose what information to fill it with.
Article by Kaelin E. Foody '18. Kaelin is interning with the Offices of Communications and Advancement this semester.