Students Say Libraries Should Stay Up All Night

News Feature

It's nearly midnight, and Anita Wokhlu '98 is sitting at a table in Cabot Library, textbooks fanned out around her and a clean notebook page ready.

Suddenly, she is interrupted by a loud, metallic alarm and flashing lights. Cabot is closing, and more than 30 students are forced out to continue their studying elsewhere.

The late-night exodus is not uncommon at Cabot or at Lamont Library, which usually closes at 1 a.m.

"There are a lot of people here at closing time," says Kishna N. Gwyn '96, who works at Cabot.

Many nights, students congregate in the unlit Greenhouse Cafe next door to Cabot to get their work done.

"During reading period and exam period, I see people go next door to the Greenhouse to study, where there isn't any light," says Eric Dahlman, a door checker at Cabot. "That's pretty sad, considering the amount they pay in tuition."

But this year, students seem poised to demand a solution to the early-morning lack of study space.

Several candidates for the Undergraduate Council presidency endorsed 24-hour libraries, and the council is hoping to push through both the all-hours study centers and a safety package for users.

"If the U.C. has its way, not only will students have a place to go at 4 a.m., they won't be afraid to go there," says newly-elected council President David L. Hanselman '94-'95. "The council would definitely be in favor of extending shuttle service hours."

But Hanselman, and many administrators, say the change will be gradual, if it happens at all.

"If past experience is an occasion, it could take a while. The more things you ask for, the more resistance you meet," Hanselman says.

Needed Hours

Library workers and students say people will definitely use the extra hours at the libraries.

"The worst time to work is right before closing, because everyone is in here and they all want to check out books," says Manuel J. St. Victor '95, who works at the Cabot circulation desk.

Students still working when libraries close find the cutoff jarring and inconvenient.

"During my first six weeks, I have been asked to leave on a few occasions, not often," says Nikola D. Simunovic '98. "There were times when I was in the middle of something."

Many students say that with Harvard's heavy workload and long hours of outside activities, they have hours to do their studying late at night.

"Most of the work gets done late at night," says Jason M. Goldberg '98, "because most of the people are doing extracurriculars in the evening."

Others say dorms are rarely a good venue for quiet cramming or homework.

"I think we need an extension of hours, because my room's really noisy and I can't get much studying done there most of the time," says James S. Chang '98. "At other schools, there are 24-hour libraries, and I was surprised when I came here this fall."

But others say the extra hours are only needed during high-traffic times like exams and reading period.

"At 1 a.m. this place is dead," says Caroline E. Kenney '95, circulation desk attendant at Lamont. "But it depends on the night and time of year. I have to say a lot of people are surprised on Thursday night when we kick them out at midnight."

Staffing Problems

Harvard officials say students likely won't see 24-hour libraries any time soon.

"To get people to staff a library between 12 p.m. and 7 a.m. is not an easy thing to do," says Richard De Gennaro, librarian of Harvard College.

Most undergraduate library jobs are part of the work study program, which already has more jobs than people to fill them, says Christopher C. Plumb, off-campus work study coordinator.

"My experience has been that when you need work-study people most, such as during exam period they're unavailable due to studies," De Gennaro says.

Staffing difficulties, however, are not limited to work-study positions.

"Many of the door-checkers don't live within walking distance of the library," says George H. Dunlap '74, evening supervisor for Cabot Library. "Public transportation is their means of getting home. What do they do at three in the morning?"

Security

The safety of students, employees, and library contents is another big worry for Harvard, De Gennaro says.

"Let's say a young woman walks out of the library at 4 a.m." De Gennaro says. "By keeping the library open we encouraged her to believe that she would be safe and we can't insure that. What if she's assaulted?"

"Meanwhile, you have a building siting there with low staff and outsiders coming in," he says.

Many students say safety for the walk home would be a major worry for them, as well.

"No, I wouldn't feel safe," Wokhlu says, "but I wouldn't mind spending the night."

Other students, as well as members of the council, suggest better transportation options.

"If they're going to have a 24 hour library, they need to have a 24 hour shuttle service," says Melissa G. Liazos '96, Lamont circulation desk supervisor.

Costs

Library officials also say the costs of an all-hour library would be too high, both in financial and human terms.

"There isn't enough use to justify the cost," De Gennaro says. "It's our experience and belief that there isn't a need except for a few days during reading period and exams, and we provide for that by keeping Cabot open until 3 a.m."

Moreover, there are other costs tied to the 24-hour library. Some students say the extra hours might just mean more stress for overworked undergraduates.

"I think if there were a 24-hour library, people might throw their schedules off more than they are now," says Mittul Gulati '98. "There are already a lot of sleep deprived people here."

Other Schools

Many universities, including MIT, offer 24-hour or extended library access.

But among Ivy League schools, only the University of Pennsylvania maintains a 24-hour facility. The Rosengarten Library can stay open almost all the time because it is on a well-lit section of campus.

"We're able to partition off a section of the library with fairly minimal staffing," says Patricia E. Renfro, director of public services for the University of Pennsylvania.

Harvard, with no plans to build a new library, is unlikely to follow Penn's example.

But several students say the University that promises its students the best--and almost the most expensive--academic experience in the nation should live up to its promise.

"I think it's definitely something that we're lacking that other schools have," says Sara J. Krivicky '97. "We're supposed to have the best of everything, especially during exams."

Wendy Hanakahi '96, who was leaving Lamont at 1 a.m. last Tuesday, agrees:

"This is supposed to be the best University in the nation.... How can they expect us to be the best if they close the library?"CrimsonJoel SewedyAre students forced out of libraries like Lamont too early?