I arrived on Winthrop’s campus in July 1999. By the time September and the fall semester rolled around, my head still whirled. I had also given my first interview about 24-hour access. A student called to talk to me about how Dacus might go about getting 24-hour access. We talked about the possibilities, but I shared with her just how expensive such an enterprise would be. Putting personnel on all three floors, securing the building so students could study safely, guarding against unauthorized access, and making sure all our equipment remained intact and in place, were just a few of the problems I discussed with her. I also explained that any money spent on that access would, at that time, take away from something else we had or needed. I also pointed out that the interest just didn’t seem to be there. I told her I was pleased that she showed initiative, and I hoped that one day we would be able to provide such access, provided interest in the idea equaled students in the building.
That interview proved to be the first of about a score more over every semester since then. Sometimes students came alone, sometimes in groups. Some students did the interview for a class project, others came from the Johnsonian, the school paper. Every student I talked to about 24-hour access—and I guessed I talked to more than three dozen—were convinced that 24-hour access was something we simply had to have in Dacus.
It’s Here! Well, Almost
Now, thirteen years later, we are on the brink of inaugurating our first semester of 24-hour access. Of course many of those students I talked to have since graduated, but every year the interest is rekindled. When we began the planning for these renovations we surveyed students. About 400 replied, and the number one issue for them was–you guessed it–24-hour access. During both semesters of this past academic year, I talked to students who wanted to know if 24-hour access was possible in the near future. All were delighted when I told them it wasn’t only possible, it was about to become a reality.
Some Realities about 24-hour Access in Dacus
Twenty-four hour access must be safe, so a security guard will be present from midnight until 7:30 a.m.. Students can rest assured that safety is our biggest concern and the reason we campaigned so vigorously for a security guard. The guard will watch for tailgaters (yes, you’ll need your ID) walk the main floor, and in general keep order in the building. It goes without saying—or should—that decorum and appropriate behavior– will be mandatory.
In order for us to have 24-hour access, we must have students use the building. We can’t provide this access for three or four students. We want this to work as much as students do, so we are trying to provide a way for its success.
As we approach the unveiling, however, it has become clear that 24/7, as had been hoped for, is proving not only elusive but also unnecessary. Providing 24-hour access is neither easy nor cheap. So, to give this pilot year its best chance of success, we adjusted the hours a little, and we will adjust them again after data from the coming fall semester better inform us about occupancy, and during which hours.
What we know now from past data is that Friday nights (after 7 p.m.) and Saturday mornings (before noon) are our least busy times. Over the last thirteen years, both of these times have found more library workers in the building than students using it. So, for the fall semester anyway, the schedule below is our tentative schedule for hours of operation. We may change these again before the semester begins, but this is our starting point. (Of course all of this is contingent on the building being ready by its scheduled date, and inspections have been passed.)
Sunday – Thursday: 24-hours (24-hours beginning Labor Day)
Friday – 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Saturday: Noon – 7:00 p.m.
Why Wait Until Labor Day?
As indicated above, this is a pilot year. For it to be successful, we must have students present during these overnight hours. So, in order for 24-hour access to have the best possible chance of success, we need to begin when use will be highest. Our data over the last two or more decades indicate that consistent library usage begins around the second full week of classes. Rather than add a week in which our data would be weak, we decided to begin 24-hour access when we know it has a chance of showing robust numbers. We also know that before breaks and/or holidays, library traffic drops off precipitously, indeed, it flatlines, if you will. So before Labor Day, fall break, Thanksgiving and Christmas, 24-hour access will be suspended. If data tell us otherwise, we’ll reassess this, too.
24-Hour Access to Main Floor Only
One solution to providing 24-hour access presented itself with the planned renovations. We simply could not open all 90,000 square feet of our building and not also have numerous workers, too many, really, to make the plan affordable. In planning the renovations, we arranged for a way to close off the main floor. After midnight, we will close off the second floor and the basement, and provide access only to the main floor. The main floor houses the majority of our computers, nearly all our reference collection, and, of course, all the group study rooms and technobooths.
What About Other Services?
Ideally, all services would be available for the 24-hours, but reality says otherwise. We hope to be able to hire a few students to take turns working the midnight until 3 a.m. shift. This would allow students to check out textbooks, do copying, and have some limited assistance with troubleshooting during this time. Right now, this is very tentative and we’re looking at our options. But we hope to provide some services for some of the midnight to 3 a.m. shift.