There are a lot of buildings on this campus that nobody likes. Few tears were shed by students when the Frieze Building was slated for destruction to make room for North Quad. The LSA Building has been undergoing renovations for years, but I have yet to find someone bursting with anticipation of its re-opening. Of course, at least these two have a role to fill at the University. There is one building that is both aesthetically displeasing and serves no functional purpose: the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.
The services offered by the UGLi do nothing to justify its existence. Aside from providing group study tables where undergraduates can loudly complain about the unjust requirements of group projects and allowing students who are pressed for time to check out books also available at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library without the hassle of walking the 50-foot distance to the Graduate Library, the UGLi has little to offer. The only thing of note on the fourth floor is the Turkish American Friendship Room, a conference room that, according to the UGLi’s website, was “furnished by a generous donation from the Turkish American community of Ann Arbor” and is reserved solely “for special occasions.”
There are a handful of ways to reform the UGLi in order to make it more useful to students. The first and second floors could be converted into computer lounges similar to those at other universities, complete with impractically comfortable furniture and ample power strips for laptops. The oppressive fluorescent lighting could be removed and more soothing iridescent fixtures installed. Perhaps the Film and Video Library could be expanded to allow for idle browsing. Of course, cosmetic changes will do nothing to improve an inherently flawed building. A complete overhaul is necessary. That’s why I propose moving everything of importance to the Graduate Library and converting the UGLi into a homeless shelter.
Of course, there will be rampant NIMBYism as a result of this change. The backlash against the Delonis center on West Huron is nothing compared to the wave of elitist animosity that will come if a part of our revered Diag is set aside for those not well-off enough to afford thousands of dollars per year in tuition, let alone scrape together enough money to pay rent every month. Property values along South University Avenue will more than likely dip as a result of their close proximity to the new shelter, and the Campus Day tours for high school seniors will more than likely need some retooling in order to appease antsy parents. The nostalgic alumni who started foaming at the mouth after the demolition of the Frieze Building was announced will no doubt do their best to ensure that their beloved Shapiro Undergraduate Library doesn’t fall into the greedy hands of the disadvantaged. A massive letter-writing campaign to the Daily and The Ann Arbor News will let the public know of the sentimental value of the hideous glass sculpture in the lobby or tell the charming story of how one alum met her husband at a second-floor group study table.
Despite the inevitable public outcry, this change would do much to ease the heavy burden that Washtenaw County’s homeless shelters are currently carrying. The new shelter could be modeled after the Delonis center, which offers the homeless a place to stay for 90 days and offers resources to ensure that those who stay can find a job and a place to live before their allotted stay is exhausted. While the shelter would be unable to provide permanent housing to those who need it, it would act as a supplement to the temporary housing facilities currently available. The Science Library reading room can be converted into bathrooms with enough showers and sinks to accommodate the influx of patrons. The plentiful floor space would allow for regular beds instead of bunk beds, and much of the space can be divided up with walls to create private space for families. Students would benefit as well, because the Graduate Library could be kept open until 5 a.m. in the morning instead of 2 a.m., allowing for longer access to the much more valuable possessions of the UGLi’s far-superior counterpart.
While the economic feasibility of converting a campus library into temporary living space seems doubtful, it is far from impossible. All of the books not already held by the Graduate Library can be moved to it, and all duplicates can be sold off in a marathon book sale fundraiser. The money saved by cutting off purchases of new books and serials can be used on meals. Current employees can either be retrained from book-stamping circulation desk clerks or moved to the Graduate Library. The University can throw its academic weight behind the shelter, offering resume-padding unpaid internships to students who would be otherwise unwilling to volunteer.
According to the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, the average cost of serving a homeless person for 90 days is about $1,100. The starting pay for student employees in the UGLi is $6.25 per hour. If that one student works for 15 hours a week for three months, she will make $1,125, more than enough to serve one homeless person. There is a veritable treasury behind the wages of student employees, and cutting a few can go a long way in funding the new shelter.
One might think that this plan is just a pipe dream, mere masturbatory delusions of a well intentioned but ultimately clueless undergraduate. In response to this, I’d challenge naysayers to visit the UGLi with the homeless shelter idea in mind. Even given the potential impracticalities of converting the building into a shelter, few skeptics will decide that the napping, cell phone-toting regulars deserve use of the facilities more than our city’s homeless. It’s time for the University to lead the charge in developing innovative strategies for combating homelessness, and the UGLi is the perfect place to start.
Mallen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.