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Change to library hours sparks petition, study-in

Amber Colón

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Seniors, juniors and sophomores at DePaul remember a time when the library was open until 2 a.m during the week. 

At the beginning of the school year, when the John T. Richardson Library announced a change to their hours that shaved off two hours of operating time, a student petition protesting the change went up online almost immediately.

The view of the John T. Richardson Library from the quad. (Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

Senior Rachel Pride spearheaded the petition at the beginning of the school year after news of the changes broke. The petition was signed by 2,683 students and then presented to the Student Government Association (SGA), who included a referendum in their latest elections, in which students voted overwhelmingly (1,117-71) in support of reinstating the library’s late night hours.

In a statement that was submitted to The DePaulia several weeks ago, SGA president Michael Lynch wrote that “the extended hours enabled the University to serve our diverse student population: the adult student who works a 9-5, the traditional student who needs a quiet space outside of their dorm and the class group that need the technological resources to collaborate on their project.”

Lynch also wrote that the cutback in hours (that did not gauge any student input before the decision) “fails to recognize the integral role a library plays in academic success.”

“SGA had been in conversation with the administration about reinstating the old library hours but the administration really hasn’t put anything forward as far as a plan for when (they’re) gonna reopen it and what not,” said senior Sam Peiffer of DePaul Socialists.

Peiffer said that he has also asked SGA representative Brooke Beatty for information about how much it costs to keep the library open for an extra two hours twice “in recent days,” but that he has not gotten a response back since the time of publication. He said that the ballpark estimate that he’s heard floating around from other student activists is about $40,000 each year.

Peiffer said that’s about the cost of one student’s tuition, which he said was a “relatively small amount” of money needed to keep the library open to keep it accessible for students who need it.

Beatty could not confirm or deny with The DePaulia whether the library would be resuming its previous hours, but said that SGA is working on getting those hours reinstated.

The library first changed its hours to stay open until 2 a.m. in 2013, according to University Librarian Scott Walter.

According to the library’s “Facts and Figures” page on their website, operational costs in 2015-2016 were $949,354. The DePaulia used data from the only other summary from 2013-2014 that is listed on the site that reports that the library stayed open for 114.5 hours per week to estimate that it cost approximately $8,291 per week in operational costs.

The 2013-2014 report on the library’s site does not include data about operational expenditures.

Because DePaul is a private institution, it’s almost impossible to retrieve an actualization of what the Library’s budget has looked like from year to year since first instating the late night hours.

In response to students like Peiffer and Pride who have raised concerns, the Provost’s office kept the library open for 24 hours during midterms week.

“The Provost’s office heard the student concerns about late night access to the library to help them study, and worked with the library to find additional funding to restore 24-hour access during midterms,” said Fr. Edward Udovic in a statement provided to The DePaulia.

“As for the 24-hour midterms week, I was definitely happy with the extra time, but it was kind of a slap in the face to students who don’t have midterms that week,” Pride said. “For example, I’m a science major, and for many of my classes, we have up to five tests throughout the course of the quarter that carry as much or more weight than a traditional midterm. None of these exam dates have fallen on the typical university-wide midterm week for me, so the 24-hour midterm week came at an inopportune time for me, as all of my exams were either the week before or two weeks after.”

Walter said that the library has regularly heard concerns from students over the years, especially since they do regular exit surveys each year to see what students are doing in the library and which resources they are accessing. Walter said that this data is used to make conclusions about the building,

The comments the library received about the change in hours ran from “kind of jokey” to “more general” to “very specific,” Walter said. “People talked about kind of students they were — people who are commuter students, non-traditional, adult students, balancing work and co-curricular responsibilities — (who see) access to the library space as a really important part of their success.”

But for students like Peiffer and Pride, midterms week was not enough. Both said that an action is in the works to protest the library’s new hours.

“As for next steps, I am working with some student activists to plan a study-in, tentatively scheduled for next Monday at midnight on the second floor of the library,” Pride said. “We are going to ignore Public Safety officer’s requests to leave the library at its closing time of 12 a.m. and continue working on our homework, unbothered. All students are welcome to join — we want as many people there as possible in order to make the biggest impression on the administration.”

Pride also said that “while a 24-hour space on campus is much needed and would be the ideal outcome here” her and other student activists are planning to stick to reinstating the library’s previous hours as they are  “more realistic” and those were the old hours.

“At a traditional, residential campus, the reality is even at that (…) those last few hours between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. are very lightly used,” Walter said.

At DePaul, Walter said that it is “unfortunately impossible” for the library to stay open for 24 hours because of the way that it is built. The library’s architecture does not allow for only certain spaces to be made available for 24 hour use. Based on his what his own experience working at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests, he said that a 24 hour operating schedule would not be the best use of funding for the Richardson Library.

When Walter was asked to respond to the student petition and SGA referendum, he said that he thinks that both are “not really something for (the library) to respond to.”

“The referendum doesn’t really tell us anything different than the petition told us, which is that there are a large number of students who would still like to see the Richardson Library open until 2 a.m. We are aware of that and I am sure that SGA’s discussion with academic leadership will involve looking for opportunities to consider that again in the future,” Walter said.

Whether or not it’s in the university’s plan to reinstate the 2 a.m. closing time or leave the hours as is, Walter said he believes the plan is to continue the 24 hour midterm week for the rest of this academic year. At the end of the year, he said, the library will provide a report to the Provost’s office about the use to determine whether or not “this is an experiment that they would want to continue” as they begin to think about next year’s budget.

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Change to library hours sparks petition, study-in