Columns

Sweren ’15: What money can’t buy — time

By
Opinions Columnist
Friday, October 17, 2014

This is the first in a series on Brown’s libraries and study spaces. 

If you haven’t been to the newly renovated Rockefeller Library, don’t bother. If you haven’t been to the newly renovated John Hay Library, hurry quick or its doors might close.

When Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library reopened its entrance nave in September, an over 70-year-old building shined anew. “We all know that the library is the heart of the university,” Yale’s President Peter Salovey said in a Yale press release. Well said, President Salovey.

Brown saw a library renovation of its own this year. The Hay reopened its 104-year-old doors in September after being closed for more than a year. The Hay underwent extensive renovations. The University’s website boasts it now has a “separate special collections reading room, an enhanced exhibition gallery, a new consultation room and a student lounge.” Though I can’t find any comments by President Christina Paxson on the vitality of our even older hall of books, I’m sure she could come up with a medical analogy that far exceeds Salovey’s.

But this isn’t about Ivy superiority. It’s about money and time, and time is money, as they say — I just never realized how much time costs.

The Hay opens most days at 10 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. — its renovation cost $15 million. Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library opens most days at 8:30 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. — its renovation cost $20 million. On average, the Sterling is open 35 percent longer than the Hay is. At a difference in renovation cost of $5 million and a difference in operation of 22.5 hours per week, either Brown needs to save in hourly salaries, or we’re using different currencies.

You’d think with $15 million Brown could have afforded to renovate the Hay’s operating hours a bit more, which were 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. pre-renovation. You’d think with tuition costing as much as it does, our money could have gone toward supporting a policy that reflected higher ed. And with students working longer and harder, you’d think Brown would understand that we, as students, have far better things to do than to constantly unpack and repack our bags.

In 2011, Claire Schlessinger, a staff writer for The Herald, reported that Harriette Hemmasi, the University librarian, “does not envision (the Hay) operating on the same schedule as the Rock or the SciLi.” Even though on most days the Hay now closes four hours later than it had in the past, it appears as if the new operating hours are as arbitrary as before.

Brown’s decision to close the Hay at 10 p.m. has consequences. An early closing time deters students from using the space because students know they’ll have to head elsewhere to study. This discourages students from hunkering down for continuous, uninterrupted work, which, in turn, discourages the special college tradition of late-night study communities. The early closing time takes a space capable of housing, nurturing and inspiring students well into the night and renders it useless.

In 2011, Hemmasi looked forward to the renovation of the Hay. According to The Herald, she wanted it to reflect the history and grandeur of Brown and resemble the grand reading rooms seen at peer universities, rather than the SciLi or the Rock. Schlessinger wrote, “(Hemmasi) compared the Hay to Grand Central Terminal in its atmosphere, which triggers a ‘lofty feeling, like your thoughts can be bigger or something.’”

On behalf of the entire student body, I want to let everyone know that after 10 p.m., undergraduates can still feel inspired. We can still feel “lofty” and believe that our “thoughts can be bigger or something.” And, oh yeah, after 10 p.m., we can still have homework.

Richard Spies, then-executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president, wanted to solve the problem of wasted space. Schlessinger wrote in her article that Spies thought the Hay’s renovations would help “revitalize ‘underutilized’ spaces on campus.” We have revitalized the Hay. Mission complete. Now let’s utilize it.

Undergraduates shouldn’t be swept nicely into some anonymous “stack” at the stroke of ten. Undergraduates shouldn’t be forced into one of the multiple iterations of the SciLi basement now seen across campus from Andrew Commons to the first floor of the Rockefeller Library.

Why does the Hay close at 10 p.m.? If this is a mental health decision, perhaps the Friedman Study Center should close at 10, too — even during the day, it’s much less inviting and encouraging. If this is a budget decision, let’s cut back on celebrations so we can afford to keep on a few more lights. And if this is a staffing issue, let’s create student jobs to run the front desk as is done in other libraries on campus.

If a library closes its doors when students are in the middle of their studies, or are just getting started, it adds stress and inconvenience and gets in the way of obligation and inspiration.

This type of restrictive policy makes it seem as though the Hay is more for graduate students and professors who have extended access to their respective departments. The Hay’s operating hours mimic the restrictive policies seen at the John Carter Brown Library and the few lasting departmental “libraries,” which close at 5 p.m. on weekdays and remain entirely closed on weekends.

What type of message does it send to visitors and other universities when our main library and only grand reading room closes before my middle school bedtime? What type of message does it send to undergraduates who don’t feel welcome to use their own facilities? Security is certainly a consideration, but it does not have to be a barrier.

The John Hay Library is Brown’s pride and joy. It houses Brown’s special collections and its archives and is home to innumerable memorabilia and famous artworks. The Hay should be an emblem of Brown’s educational prowess and not its inability to self-govern and make policy.

In conclusion — hold that thought! The library is closing.

 

Evan Sweren ’15 is a senior at Brown.

  • research it like a library

    We should analyze over several weeks the number of people coming into Hay by hour (and segment in students / researchers / tourists, etc.) and then determine most cost-effective operating hours. For instance, why does the library need to be open from 1:00 – 3:00 if it has minimal use in those hours? If the largest expense is staffing, why not allocate hours to the most intensive use-hours to maximize benefit

  • Mr. Po Oksy

    What good is it for a school to be proud of its libraries, if its students are not? I know of no student proud to call the Scili basement his or her home, except maybe when the bunnies roamed free. If libraries are meant to be multipurpose spaces, doesn’t that mean that they should at least be comfortable and inviting, if not homey?