I have been on campus for barely a year, and if I had a dollar for every time I have heard the above question – or some variant of it – I would have a week’s worth of lunch money.
So let’s talk about it. For ease of discussion, I’ll refer to the “twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week” concept as “24/7.” We’ll take the second part first:
“University libraries across the country are open 24/7.”
This statement is simply not true. In January 2013, I did an informal survey of the operational hours of nearly 50 libraries. In Indiana, I checked:
Indiana State University
Ball State University
University of Evansville
I checked the Great Lakes Valley Conference Schools. I checked the Big Ten Conference schools. I checked the Southeastern Conference schools. Of these 49 libraries, I found two libraries that open all or part of their buildings 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These are Indiana University-Bloomington, and it is only the Information Commons within the Wells Library that is open. The other is the University of South Carolina. There, the main campus library is open 24/7 during the academic year.
I found 5 libraries that are open 24 hours a day for 4 or 5 days a week, usually Sunday – Wednesday, or Monday – Thursday. These schools are: University of Wisconsin-Madison; Auburn University; University of Florida; University of Kentucky; University of Tennessee; Indiana State University added this service in Fall 2013.
Although this is not an exhaustive survey, it is a good enough sampling to refute the claim that many university libraries across the country never close.
Now for the second and more relevant part:
Why isn’t Rice Library open 24/7?
In many ways, Rice Library IS open 24/7. The library catalog, 90+ databases, research guides, and several services are accessible at any time of the day or night. The building itself is open 104 hours per week, second only to the Recreation, Fitness & Wellness Center, which is open 113 hours per week. This year, we have expanded our Friday and Saturday hours, and will expand our hours during Exam Week to remain open until 2:00 AM for six nights.
And there are some key points to remember when you are discussing 24/7 access. First, the libraries mentioned above are open overnight for some or all of a seven-day period with minimal services and no library staff on site. And these facilities are open only to current university community members; ID must be shown and/or swiped to enter the facilities after a certain time.
My main concern with Rice Library being accessible 24/7 – or even 24/4 – is safety. Rice Library is a three-acre building and we simply do not have the numbers in the late night hours to provide a safe environment for students. Don’t believe me? Let’s look:
As you can see, even during Final Exams – when library usage is highest – our head counts really drop after 1:00 am.
And take a look at the few universities that offer this type of access. You will notice that they are all quite a bit larger than USI. Most are located within large urban centers. And they all have much larger staffs than Rice Library. All of these factors translate to safety in numbers. These buildings simply have the usage to be secure in the wee hours of the night.
I realize that USI is isolated on the edge of sleepy Evansville, which means that many of the problems that large urban libraries battle every day simply do not exist here. We do not have a problem with homeless people hanging out in the library, not using the space as it is intended to be used. We do not have a lot of thefts. And we do not have a lot of assaults (I am knocking wood as I type). But if you were in an out-of-the-way part of the library, late at night, and were to fall, or have some sort of medical emergency, it might be a while before someone found you. And I do not want to try to explain that to your loved ones after something has happened.
With all of the above on the table, I remain open to the idea of expanding our hours even more than we already have. But in order for me to feel good about making a case for that, I must see more late-night usage.
Written by: Marna Hostetler, Library Director
If you have further questions about 24/7 library access, please contact Marna directly.