Expanding Campus Accessibility: Improvements to 25Live

I want to talk about access, and particularly access to physical spaces. Swarthmore is wonderful in that it is very small, and one tends to see the same people congregate in the same library and the same spaces. The downside of this, however, is that it can sometimes be hard to find a different space to study in, either privately or in a group. The college needs to do a better job of making what are typically classroom or private spaces accessible to all students.

I think Singer is a great building. The tall ceilings, natural light, and other features make it an enjoyable place to be in. I do not, however, spend much, if any, of my time in that building because it lacks a printer (I have been told that it might have one, but last I checked, it’s not on \\restech), textbook reserves, and food. More importantly, most rooms in Singer are either locked or only accessible via OneCard, so every time I go, I find great study spaces with walls of whiteboards that are frustratingly inaccessible. From my experience, most of the seminar spaces and rooms in Singer tend to be locked. 

The school’s problems with accessibility are not just limited to Singer. Though I am lucky enough to go to bed before two a.m. on most nights, getting kicked out of the library after that time and having to find an alternative space is an often frustrating experience. For a school that prides itself on its academic rigor, the lack of spaces that can accommodate students during especially busy nights can be quite inconvenient.

Part of the issue is the software used to reserve these spaces — 25Live, which is the internal software used to reserve spaces for student meetings and, I’m sure, for all manner of departmental activities. Through it, you can request assistance from Swaudio, post an event on a calendar, and request other types of support. Perhaps most importantly, 25Live is synced with the college’s heating and air conditioning, and if a space is reserved, the system will run based on the reservation start/finish times.

Unfortunately, 25Live is not an intuitive or easy software to use. I can speak from several personal experiences, where I’ve thought I submitted a reservation only to have forgotten to actually press submit on the location, or having thought I submitted a request before discovering a week later that I hadn’t actually selected a location and the system had not informed me. 

To be fair, with enough determination and the occasional email to OSE, anyone can become an expert in planning logistics with 25Live. But I believe the student experience might be improved if this software were more intuitive and better broadcasted to students.  

25Live desperately needs a more accessible and user-friendly interface. While I appreciate that it is its own database (and not merely a form on Google Drive), 25Live could use a major visual update, similar to what happened to The Dash. The current features are not bad, but 25Live could definitely use a cleaner layout and more obvious features for selecting locations and other event features. 

The last 25Live point I would like to mention is that many of the private rooms in the Dining Center are reserved but clearly empty. These rooms are, I believe, more highly sought-after by students than what might have been initially expected, at least in part due to the fact that there is decently loud music and a fair amount of noise on both levels of the Dining Center. If students simply want a quiet place to eat or work, the rooms are their only real option. Hopefully, the quiet room will return when Old Sharples renovations are completed. But as of now, because the private rooms are frequently booked but less frequently occupied, I believe some sort of active check or confirmation that people are actually using the rooms is necessary. To get a room during lunch without a prior reservation should not require hanging out near the rooms and checking to see if they are actually in use before moving in. 

I am not proposing every reservable room on campus be held to the same ‘use it or lose it’ standard. However, for the private dining rooms, it makes sense to make them clearly accessible to others if they are not in use. 

One can imagine a more ubiquitous version of 25Live that includes some mobile site or app, especially considering the fact that mobile versions have already been made for other services on campus. The private dining rooms have a screen outside each of them that broadcasts who has the room reserved. It would be helpful to have a QR code that the room requestor, or anyone on the list for the event, has to scan to confirm that they are using the space, say, within fifteen minutes of the reservation starting. 

Perhaps as the excitement around the new Dining Center subsides at the beginning of the next academic year and there is increased seating following the renovation of Old Sharples, the demand and frequency of overbooking of the private dining rooms will decrease and a more active system will not be required. This is not to say, however, that greater student accessibility to spaces is necessary, and in order to support that a more efficient and user-friendly 25Live system is necessary. And should the dining rooms continue to be in demand, a more legislated system is required. Ultimately, Swarthmore College is just a collection of buildings; without students who use the space, it’s not worth much. It’s the responsibility of the college to encourage and facilitate the work and collaboration its students are known for. Improving 25Live is one example of how we, as students, could spend more time working and interacting, and less time filling out forms.

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