By Kristy Padron
A recent listserv discussion was on the topic of extended library hours during final exam week. One respondent received a request to keep the library open for 24 hours during final exams. For years, my library received requests from students as well as student government leaders to extend its open hours. My experience in a library that provided extended hours gave me one perspective and stance on the matter, but a few members of the listserv offered theirs:
Not a chance. The cost and liability would be overwhelming, the rewards practically nil. I would beware of outliers pushing for extended hours.
Resources were matters of concern for offering extended hours, particularly in terms of the staffing and costs required. However, the college’s setting should be considered.
I have never heard of a community college that had the need, let alone the resources, to offer these hours. We have studied extended hours (8:00 to 10:00 p.m.) for a couple of years. Usage, entries, and desk stats suggest that very few students relative to daytime usage come in. The drop-off is around 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. and no one comes back.
I have seen very different patterns at previous jobs that had residence halls and residential students, who often needed to get away from rowdy dorms and such, but our community college students almost always seem to prefer to go home as soon as they can and do not seem to prefer to study on campus unless they have a class later.
My take is that unless there is a residential component, community colleges are going to fit the commuter college pattern, and most patrons will leave campus after their last class and never come back. The few that are in the library later in the evening are generally coming out of evening classes and use the library as a place to study after their class gets out, but almost no one comes to the library as a destination after 4:00 p.m. unless they have a class later or just got out of one. Evening usage is extremely light, and there is no suggestion that students would stay much beyond 10:00 p.m. let alone overnight, even during midterms or finals.
I can’t imagine putting resources into keeping things open beyond that, and our numbers for the last couple of years around midterms and finals suggest exactly the same thing.
Use patterns can provide insights on the feasibility of offering extended hours:
My current community college does not have dorms or residential students, and our students generally leave campus before 5:00 p.m. and never return. We have been experimenting with extended hours for a couple of years now. During the heavy study periods (midterms and finals), there is almost no increase in visitors during the peak hours of 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and no significant increase during the extended hours.
We tried numerous ways to advertise our extended hours for students, but they do not return to the library in the evening, even during heavy study periods. We have a large student enrollment, but we have low numbers of students 9:00 or 9:30 p.m., and sometimes only one or zero. This is after 2 years of extending hours to 10:00 p.m., and very few students seem interested in taking advantage of those relatively late hours.
One person used their experience and a recently published study that scrutinizes the benefits of offering extended hours:
My library routinely has students request extended regular hours, especially into the later night hours (eg., up to or past midnight). I wonder if the findings of an article in College & Research Libraries are somewhat appropriate do this discussion. The authors state the variable of students who use the library as a place for late night studying (using the “after hours” 24 hour study room) has a negative relationship on their graduating GPA.
Citation: Stemmer, J. & Mahan, D. (2016). Investigating the relationship of
library usage to student outcomes. College & Research Libraries [In press]. Retrieved from http://crl.acrl.org/content/early/2015/06/11/crl15-704.abstract.
Alternatives were presented for offering extended hours. One librarian described a night that offered extended hours and involved the participation of various college units:
Ten years ago, I initiated a finals cram night for the library. I partnered with a student government association and recruited my colleagues. On the night before finals, the library stayed open until midnight, past our usual closing time of 9:00 p.m.
Faculty members and tutors were stationed at tables in the library and were available for tutoring, one on one assistance, group discussions, and homework checks. Some faculty members brought in board games to just play and debrief with any of their students. The student government provided free food throughout the evening, which is always helpful. Posters, word of mouth, and faculty announcements helped spread the word. The librarians set up a “citation station” for help with papers. We tried offering yoga stretches, soft music, and stress-reducing activities, but the students wanted their instructors and also food. The student government then has drawings, prizes, and surveys. We even had a flashmob start the evening on a few occasions.
This was a great community event and involved faculty, students, librarians, and administrators. We have requests to offer it for a full week before finals, but we are a small staff and I do not think I could convince enough faculty to commit.
The surveys indicate the students like the event and look forward to it every semester. They also indicate that it makes a big difference in their grade and/or comfort level with their final.
Another alternative was to set aside a space for extended hours:
A cheap alternative to all-night libraries is a late night study hall. It will need tables, chairs, access to restrooms, wi-fi, and a vending machine. The only staffing required is
campus public safety.
Extended hours are an often-demanded service, and as one part of the discussion indicates, a lucrative opportunity for collaboration. Please share in the comments how your library has responded to requests for extended library hours, or what it has done.