The main room of Bapst Library has been replaced by O’Neill Library as the 24/5 study space for students since classes started at Boston College. Just as Gargan Hall did in past years, O’Neill will remain open continuously from Sunday through Thursday, and close at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Bapst will close at 2 a.m. Both spaces will still be open 24/7 during study days for exams.
With more space and more staff, said University Librarian Thomas Wall, O’Neill is the University library that best provides what he termed a “blended landscape”—a space with a host of different opportunities for students, including technology use, research and material circulation, locations for isolated quiet study, and group study spaces.
“When I first got here, I wouldn’t have even considered having [O’Neill] open 24/5, because the facilities hadn’t been looked at with any eye toward how people use it since the building opened, frankly,” Wall said.
Before working at BC, Wall was involved with the design of new libraries in Chicago and at the University of Pittsburgh and Duke University. He’s also written about the subject of library functionality, and says that transforming library spaces is his professional specialty.
Gate counts at the University’s libraries have tripled since Wall arrived six years ago. In O’Neill alone, the number of users has risen from approximately 600,000 per year to the range of 1.5 to 2 million. Wall attributes this change to efforts that have been made every year to make the space more user-friendly. He estimates that around 400 seats have been added in O’Neill, including the study rooms on the first floor and the large room left of the entrance on floor three.
As gate counts accelerated in O’Neill, Wall and the library staff began paying attention to student use patterns. On a typical weeknight, he said, there weren’t many students left in Gargan Hall after 1 or 2 a.m., while as many as 30 to 50 people had to be kicked out of O’Neill on a regular basis.
Wall consulted with the Quality of Student Life Committee (QSLC) to get more data on students’ studying preferences, and distributed surveys throughout the two main libraries to get a random sample of student respondents. The survey’s results revealed that—with the exception of the final exam period—O’Neill was, overall, the study space of choice, according to Wall.
“Over there [in Gargan Hall], it’s just a place of quiet study—there’s no technology, there’s no assistance, no circulation, it’s just a quiet study space—which I value, I totally get it,” Wall said. “We don’t want to discount the ambiance of Gargan Hall, we all love it. It’s phenomenal. But in terms of what’s best for students in those hours between 2 in the morning and 7 or 6 in the morning, [O’Neill] provides more opportunities for them.”
Those opportunities will include the equipment from the Campus Technology Resource Center (CTRC), which closed over the summer. Its computers have been moved to O’Neill’s third floor, with multimedia software and hardware in O’Neill 205, and additional printers on the first and third floors.
The Center for Teaching Excellence, an initiative to support and improve the teaching practices of faculty and graduate students, is set to open in the CTRC’s old location.
“The Center will sponsor events, seminars, grants programs, and awards, new and ongoing, and will cooperate with Boston College schools and departments to support their efforts to enhance and review teaching,” Vice Provost for Faculties Pat DeLeeuw said in an email. “It will house the existing Instructional Design and eTeaching Services, including its Interactive Media Lab and learning management system, as well as the Writing Fellows Program and the Apprenticeship in College Teaching Certificate Program for graduate students.”
A door is currently being built on the second floor of O’Neill that will provide direct access to the Center for Teaching Excellence, and will open concurrently with the Center. The construction project reflects another consideration in the decision to keep O’Neill open overnight: ease of access for people with disabilities. Complaints have arisen in the past about Gargan Hall’s inaccessibility—while not the sole concern, it was certainly a factor, Wall said.
“As we tried to say, ‘Okay, what are all the variables here?’ that was one of them,” Wall said. “We knew that there were accessibility issues, and we’ve been addressing those aggressively … there’s been a big push on campus to become much more accessible—to be accessible, fully, not ‘much more’—and the library’s equally committed to that.”
Wall also noted that the shift is not based on a desire to save money—in addition to the past and present construction changes to O’Neill, he anticipates that costs will increase in the fall with the provision of minimal late-night services. While Gargan Hall only required the presence of security to remain open, O’Neill will likely have two to three students and one staff member working as well, in order to help with circulation and reserves.
Finally, he emphasized that the University library staff and administration is open to feedback about the switch, and the facilities in general. Almost every change to the libraries—including both design and functional adjustments, such as leaving all libraries open 24/7 starting a few weeks before final exams—has involved student input through QSLC.
“We all have blind spots,” Wall said. “If we didn’t have our ears and eyes open to other people’s perceptions, we’d be fools.”
Featured Image by Julie Orenstein / Heights Editor