For those dreaded two weeks during mid-December, the Boston College libraries become students’ new homes. They’re where they eat, drink, socialize, and sleep. (And, maybe even study.) In fact, many students might even benefit from changing their mailing address to O’Neill Library from Dec. 14-21.
The 24/7 library hours are absolutely essential for finals week survival. Many students can not imagine being forced to leave the library at 3 a.m. and attempting to cram the rest of the night in their dorm rooms. Such a thing simply just isn’t possible. Lucky for BC students, from the nights of Dec. 2 through Dec. 20, both O’Neill and Bapst libraries extend their hours, operating 24 hours, seven days a week. Normally, O’Neill operates from 7:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. from Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Sunday. The hours are similar for the first two floors in Bapst Library while the top floor, Gargan Hall, is open for 24 hours year round. Students may take for granted the accessibility of the university libraries during this time of year, or perhaps even complain about having to journey .2 miles from their dorm rooms in the frigid, whipping winds to get to O’Neill. Take a moment to consider, however, what 24/7-accessibility means for the BC library staff. A brief conversation with Thomas Wall, university librarian, and Connie Strittmatter, head librarian in access services and collection maintenance, will leave any student truly appreciative for the beloved libraries at BC.
Many do not know that the libraries hire seven new employees for three weeks during December, or that the libraries coordinate extra hours with BCPD to ensure security guards staffed overnight in both O’Neill and Bapst. Throughout exam week in particular, the library staff puts a tremendous amount of extra energy into ensuring that the libraries are as accessible, welcoming, and presentable as possible. The mission of the University libraries year round, Wall said, is to “make it a student space for all things academic-you can come in, you can meet with your friends, you can study, you can surf, you can collaborate, you can do word processing-whatever you want to do, you should be able to do it here.”
During reading and final exam period, however, the library mission becomes slightly more specific. “We’re trying to make it as quiet and as open and accessible as possible,” Wall said. “We’re almost trying to provide a refuge for you guys when you’re studying.”
Wall has worked with BC University libraries for five years now. No more than two or three years ago, library final exam accommodations were only half of what they are today. Refreshments, for instance-that table of complementary coffee, cocoa, and cookies-used to occur only once during the entirety of finals week at O’Neill alone. Always looking to accommodate the students, however, the library staff recently increased the cookie and refreshment bestowal to twice per night in both libraries every night during finals. “We’re just trying to meet your needs to help you get through this stressful time,” Wall said.
In addition to the extended hours and free food, the libraries also open up additional study space during finals week to accommodate the increased library occupation. Conference rooms 406 and 413, classrooms 132, 211, 307, and even Connors Family Learning Center become available for study from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.
“We do very few meetings during this time so that you can have access to the rooms,” Wall said. “And if I’m walking around during the day and see students trying to collaborate, I go back to the office and check on room availability, then I’ll walk them up to the room and lead them in there. It’s all for the students.”
The seating capacity of O’Neill is over 1,000 students including classrooms and conference rooms. “That’s an ongoing challenge for us. We’ve doubled the amount of people that use the libraries in these last five years. And we love that,” Wall said.
The library’s goal, at any given time, is to be able to accommodate about one-third of the students on campus in library seating.
The library is close to reaching this goal. When combined with some dining facilities and academic buildings, BC is able to accommodate seating for around 40-50 percent of students.
In regard to overnight staffing, Connie Strittmatter spoke of the increased hiring of graduate students during this period. During the week, the full time library staff leaves by 3 a.m., at which time the graduate students take over until 7:30 a.m., when the full time library staff returns.
On Friday and Saturday, however, these graduate students work long shifts, from 9:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. Responsibilities of these employed students include working the circulation desks and taking the hourly headcounts of students studying in the library.
The first night of 24/7 hours, the head count revealed 52 students in the library at 3 a.m., 31 at 4 a.m., 33 at 5 a.m., and 13 at 6 a.m. These numbers will likely increase as finals period approaches and students begin to make University libraries their primary study and social space.
“One thing people need to know is that librarians love to help students,” Wall said. “If you ever think that they’re looking busy, forget it. We don’t feel like we do enough. Any request, research or library related, we’re here for you. We respond to every request. We will do everything we can to improve the services and the environment.”