Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Next semester, hours in McCabe will be extended–opening fifteen minutes earlier at 8 AM on weekdays, closing an hour later at 2 AM on weeknights, and adding an hour (until 11 PM) to Friday and two (until 8 PM) to Saturday evenings. The change was prompted by a Student Council initiative–later library hours would constantly come up during their tabling sessions, and a student survey confirmed that this is an issue for many students.
628 students responded to the survey, and 140 reported that they study until library closing “almost daily,” another 217 “about once a week.”
457 of the students “would use McCabe if it was open later Sunday through Thursday,” or 73%, and 61% “would use McCabe if it was open later Fridays and Saturdays.” 23% “would use McCabe if it was open earlier in the morning.”
In a comment box at the end of the survey, students pointed out that for many, McCabe is more than just a study space–students without their own computers can be hard-pressed to get their papers typed by 1 AM, and seniors working on theses do not enjoy being pulled away from their carrels. Students who wanted McCabe to be open earlier in the morning mostly cited printing concerns.
Some students were especially enthusiastic about the prospect of more hours on the weekends, such as the student who pointed out “having the library open later on Saturday night would really help with the ‘I should do reading until I go out later, but if I sit in my room doing reading I’m just going to end up listening to music and pre-partying…'” Science majors in particular seemed to want McCabe to open earlier on the weekends.
Head Librarian Peggy Seiden reports that “weekend hours have always been a concern,” and expects the new Friday and Saturday evening hours to be popular. However, the library will not be opening earlier on weekends. “I’ve been here then, and this place is dead on Saturday and Sunday mornings.”
Students have asked for the same things before without receving them. According to Seiden, the library did a survey in 2000/2001 on “access services,” and “we did ask in that survey what hours students might want… they indicated that they wanted it open until either 2 or 3 AM, but there wasn’t strong support for the Dean’s Office at that time. With the change in personnel I felt that we might re-visit the issue.”
Dean of Students Jim Larimore wrote in an e-mail that he supported the change “based on the strong evidence that was gathered by the Student Council that this would be a good quality of life improvement for many students. Many people remain concerned about whether students at Swarthmore get enough sleep, which is a legitimate concern because of the negative consequences for health and learning that accompany sleep deprivation.”
Many of those people are students–123, or 19.6%, of respondents to the Student Council survey agreed to the statement “I don’t think McCabe should be open later than 1 AM.”
A comment box at the end of the survey revealed some of the reasons. The most commonly cited reasons were indeed worries about student health, but there were also concerns about staffing–“I believe it would be hard to get students to actually work here past 1 AM,” and environmental concerns, such as the student who called the proposal “a ridiculous waste of energy for a dozen people who could go study in another building.”
Seiden acknowleged that while there “always been a concern about making sure that students stay healthy and get enough sleep… the survey gave a compelling case that many students are already going to be awake, and if we close the library, they’ll just have to find a new space to work.”
Some of these awake students feel that studying in McCabe is healthier for them. One called Science Center and Parrish Parlors “really depressing… at night” and another complained that the early closing hours “forces students to have to find other spaces on campus to study ALONE and that is not healthy, especially when under a lot of stress.”
What about budgeting and staffing? Seiden said that it will cost $1200 to provide library staff for the extra hours and also that “we’re adding eighteen hours a week worth of student time.” Saturday night shifts will have students alone.
As for carbon load and lighting costs, Seiden said that “it’s ten dollars an hour for lights in McCabe,” and that they are considering moving to more energy-efficient lightbulbs. Since temperature control in the library is “turned down but never off,” Seiden said, “we did not get data on that.”
The decision to extend hours will be reviewed at the end of the semester after the staff can determine how much the extra hours are used. “We’ll be doing counts on a regular basis.”
Another library improvement students can look forward to in the slightly more distant future is wooden lockers on each floor of McCabe, totaling perhaps sixty to eighty in all. Seiden expects that keys will be available for check-out at the circulation desk, and that students will be able to keep keys for twenty-four hours.
Construction will probably take place over the summer, making the lockers available in the Fall of 2008. Seiden says that lockers have always been planned for in library renovations. “We’ve always put off meeting those requests, but when we started hearing about the thefts, we decided it was time to get the lockers… [and] address ongoing issues now.”