The ghosts of 10,000 buried books

In 1995 the recently-established University of Western Sydney received a generous donation of 40,000 books from the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library, intended for the new university’s library at its Campbelltown campus.

At the time, the perpetually cash-strapped UWS was suffering from a particularly severe funding deficit, and no money could be allocated to catalogue the donation; nor was there sufficient space to store the books while more funding was sought. Administrators explored a number of possible solutions, including selling or pulping the books, before arriving at what they felt was the most economically rational decision: 10,000 of the books were secretly buried under the campus (Marks 2001).

Uwslibrary

The UWS library

Amazingly, the university seems to have been able to keep this interment secret for almost five years. Attempts by students to recover the books revealed that they had been damaged beyond repair, but that amongst the thousands buried on the campus were rare first editions and books which the students, in the absence of sufficient library resources, had been forced to find off campus – including, ironically, in the Fisher Library itself.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald – quoted in a New South Wales parliamentary debate about the university – used the story as an example of economic rationalism gone mad, stating that “The ghosts of 10,000 buried books haunt the University” (Knox 2001). Amidst criticism from students, who compared the book burial to food discarded by corporations while millions starve, UWS officials initially claimed that they had no other option, before finally admitting that it had been a “thoughtless act” and would not happen again (Marks 2001).

References

Knox, M. 2001. The university of hard knocks. Sydney Morning Herald 8 July.

Marks, K. 2001. Cash-hit university buried old books to save room. The Independent 22 March.

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