UAF’s Rasmuson Library is going through a strategic planning process right now, and my department — Alaska and Polar Regions — is doing its own as part of that process. One thing I’ve been reminded of is how long-term vision gets too easily sacrificed (if it’s even conceived) for short-term feasibility. And I don’t know what to do about it.
One of the bright spots of the Rasmuson, the jewel in our crown, is the archives. (For those who are not researchers or librarians, an archives is a collection of non-current records of individuals, families, and organizations, and may include personal papers, government records, photographs, and film. Archives are essential for doing original historical research.) We have around four linear miles of archival materials on shelves, not to mention the vaults where our audio and film recordings are kept. Our archives makes us one of the premier institutions worldwide for arctic research.
There are some collections an archives can count on getting as a matter of course: for example, the university is required to leave some of its institutional records there. But a great part of our archives comes from voluntarily donated collections. Our donors must be able to meet with our archivists and to bring in their collections — which means they must be able to get to us easily. And that’s the problem.
The popular opinion seems to be that the folks at Facilities Services, who govern parking, are a bunch of bloodthirsty jackals who will ask you to open a vein for a parking permit and will turn your grandmother over to the Taliban if you run afoul of their meters or regulations. (I take no position on this, except to say, I feel sorry for them, since they are apparently mandated to operate on a cost-recovery basis, covering all their operations with fees and fines.) There is now no free parking on campus. Whether this is just or not, it makes it hard for our donors to reach us.
As APR discussed its piece in the strategic plan, people began referring to “the parking problem”: namely, that the shortage of parking, not to mention the absence of any free parking, made it difficult for donors to get to our offices. (Apparently, the members of a local historical group have an understanding that they should not visit our archives, because it is so difficult.)
I conceived of it differently: as a transit problem. To my mind, if frequent, reliable public transit were offered in the Borough, our visitors, including our donors, would rarely need to drive to us. Of course, for there to be such transit, we’d need greater Borough funding to buy more buses, expand the coverage of routes, pay for drivers, et cetera. Greater Fairbanks sprawls out all across the Tanana River Valley; the coverage by public transit required to get just the more-populated areas to the university could require major public investment, and it certainly wouldn’t happen overnight.
In contrast, parking policies can be changed overnight. And that’s the solution my department is going for. I think we’ll work through proper channels to attempt to designate one or two parking spots near the library as “invited library guest only”.
I’m not upset that we’re pursuing the parking solution. It only makes sense. But I’m disappointed (not surprised) that nobody else seemed to think of our problem as part of a greater public problem — or, if they did, as a part of a problem worth tackling. We’re certainly willing to say, “Let’s take the parking issue up with the chancellor.” Why couldn’t we, with other departments, ask the chancellor to address the future of public transit with the Borough Assembly?
I like self-reliance. I like individual initiative. But transportation, of which parking is only a small part, is a problem we grapple with all over Fairbanks. A long-term solution to our various transportation woes is not possible when we try to solve these problems at the small organizational level. Paradoxically, the best way for organizations to be self-reliant is to band together for region-wide changes — so they can be free to grapple with the problems that really matter to them.
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