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Widener Beefs Up Security

Threat of terrorism speeds changes

By Elisabeth S. Theodore, Contributing Writer

Students entering Widener Library will soon have to swipe their ID cards through turnstiles that electronically check the validity of their identification.

Originally slated for installation in the spring as part of ongoing Widener renovations, implementation of the turnstiles was moved up after Sept. 11, said Beth Brainard, director of communications for Harvard College Library.

One turnstile was installed at Widener’s entrance Monday and the library expects a second to arrive soon. They will become operational in the next few weeks.

“Even when they are in, we will give [library] users a couple weeks notice,” Brainard said.

The turnstiles will electronically check the dates and authenticity of ID cards and will eliminate the need for a second security official at the entrance, a change the library made after the terror attacks. Previously one person had both checked the identification of people entering the library and the bags of people leaving.

Cecil Cummings, who has worked at Widener’s entrance for about 10 years, said that he had previously been able to monitor the door without extra assistance because of lower demand for security.

When a large number of people were lined up at the exit and entrance, “we just waved them in,” he said. “People are basically honest, and it wasn’t necessary [for security] to be that tight,” he said.

But Brainard said Widener has had problems with unauthorized people entering the library in the past. Historic French documents worth about $10,000 were stolen from the library last spring, although investigators do not know if members of the Harvard community were responsible for the theft.

Eun Young Choi ’02, a native of Lexington, Mass., said she was able to access Widener as a high school student because of the lax security at Pusey Library, which connects to Widener through an underground tunnel.

She would first enter the government book and document depository at Lamont Library, which is open to the public, and then walk through the tunnel to Pusey without showing any identification.

“When the guards at Pusey weren’t looking, you could sneak through the tunnel between Pusey and Widener,” said Choi, who wrote a college application essay about sneaking into Widener. (She used a different essay for Harvard.)

While no timetable has yet been set, eventually the stack and side entrances, like the one at Pusey, will check cards electronically as well.

Widener has also installed security cameras in the past month at the entrance to the library and at its construction sites. The tape is monitored continuously at a guard station.

Brainard said the videos would be reviewed to evaluate door-checkers’ performance and to assist in the investigation in case of future thefts. The construction site cameras will allow library officials to ensure construction workers, or those posing as construction workers, do not gain unauthorized access to the library.

Most of Harvard’s libraries depend on human checkers, although the Law Library installed card-reading turnstiles several years ago. Brainard said she did not know if other University libraries planned to install electronic card checkers after Sept. 11.

Choi said she felt safe at Harvard’s library but that security measures such as turnstiles, while possibly limiting thefts, could not completely safeguard students and books.

“It doesn’t stop people from taking things into the library, since they don’t check bags,” she said.

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