With belts tightening in departments across campus, the University of South Florida (USF) library faced cuts to its hours, which had been 24 hours a day, five days a week. Administrators, though, seemingly underestimated how much USF students counted on the library to play host to all night study sessions. When the reduced hours went into effect on August 26, USF students returned to school to find a library that opened at 7:30 a.m. weekday mornings, only to shutter its doors at midnight. In response, hundreds of students protested the decision with “sit-outs” and letter writing campaigns. Those protests paid off last week, when administration and library officials announced the return of the library’s popular ‘up-all-night’ schedule.
Since the 2009-10 school year, the USF Tampa Library has been open to students every minute from Sunday at noon to Friday evening at 6 pm. When the schedule began in 2009, it was as a trial program which saw only the first floor of the library open for all-nighters, testing the waters to see if students would actually come to study in the small hours of the morning. According to USF Dean of Libraries Bill Garrison, the results were immediate and convincing.
“The demand was most assuredly there,” said Garrison. “By the time we got to finals, we had people sitting on the floor because there wasn’t enough space.”
Since the first floor didn’t provide enough room, the new open all night policy was extended to the entire library building the following year and has continued to welcome night owls to study since. According to the library’s own counts, said Bill Garrison, a weekday at 3 a.m. sees an average of 400-600 people studying in the library.
While the new hours were greeted happily by students who now felt they had more time and flexibility to use the library’s resources, extending those hours was not a cheap proposition. The overnight shift employs two full time staff members, two security guards, and couple of low cost student employees–and, of course, an employee to staff the on-site Starbucks, which keeps the same hours as the library – for a total price tag of $136,000 annually compared to closing at midnight.
Without money in the budget for the associated costs, the “24/5” program was kept afloat for the last three years by discretionary funding provided through the Office of Student Success. This year, though, the “carry forward” money–cash that had been budgeted but not spent in the last fiscal year–dried up.
A Quiet Spot at Any Hour
For many of the students who had come to depend on the library as a late night study hall where they could read in peace and work on their own schedules without disrupting (or being disrupted by) dorm mates, the cut in hours came as a blow. Those students included protest organizer Melissa Garzon, sophomore sociology major at USF who could be found at the library several nights a week after 2 a.m., either alone or with a group.
“A lot of us started off saying ‘Where am I going to study after midnight now?’ because no other building on campus has the resources of the library,” Garzon said. “Over the course of the sit in, though I met a lot of people who also needed the library open late.” The library’s late night hours were serving students from all walks of life, from those who worked jobs during the day and couldn’t make time for schoolwork until late in the evening to others whose cramped living quarters made the library the only place they could comfortably hit the books.
Of course, not all of the students who left when the library closed at midnight stayed for the protests. But not all of them had to in order to make an impression. The first night of the sit-out began with 100 protesting students, dozens of whom stayed all the way through the night until the library opened again in the morning.
The sit-outs also spearheaded a petition to return the library to 24-hour availability, which was signed by thousands of students, and an accompanying letter-writing campaign that saw hundreds of letters delivered to the office of University President Dr. Judy Genshaft. After more than a week of student protests, administrators backed off, announcing last week that all-nighters would return to USF’s library. 24-hour service is slated to return September 15.
The issue won’t likely be revisited, either, said Garrison, since late night hours are no longer a special item funded by provisional outside sources, but a factor included in the library’s budget. Unfortunately, though, that budget hasn’t been boosted accordingly, so making library hours permanent “means that something else will get cut,” says Garrison. He just doesn’t know what yet.
For right now, though, he and his staff are happy to have the chance to help students get the most out of their education, no matter what time of day it is. And though he wasn’t surprised by the uproar from students over library hours—after all, he and his staff knew the facilities were seeing heavy use at those times—he and the other USF librarians were touched by how many turned out. “We were very pleased to see the students ask for space to study,” Garrison said.