Swemming around the clock
September 21, 2007
College is all about the awkward silences. There’s the awkward silence after a bad first impression. Or that terrible hush you feel after delivering a controversial joke or offensive remark. My favorite is that awkward silent stare you share with a subject of attraction, your eyes shifting toward theirs in pleading calculation, communicating something incommunicable — your thoughts raving, but your mouths awkwardly clamped shut.
p. Worst of all, though, is the dreadfully awkward silence you get in the classroom. This happens often at the College. The professor asks a no-brainer and the room trembles, becoming utterly soundless. Of course, you would know the question was a no-brainer had you done the reading. You skim through the pages blankly, pretending to comb for the answer. You might even contort your face or stick your tongue out, expressing how close you are to raising your hand, how it’s on the tip of your tongue, if only you could materialize your thoughts into words. Still nobody responds. Soon, dread ensues; you avoid eye contact with your professor as you pray to God Almighty that your name will not be announced. Finally, someone breaks the silence, and there can be heard a collective sigh of relief as you exhale in a combination of ease, shame and embarrassment.
p. Why aren’t the students doing their readings? Could it be that they have no place to read? I pondered this question, remembering my freshman year and how much I hated Swem for its uncompromising hours, closing at midnight weekdays and at six on weekends. I couldn’t help but compare it to my brother’s library at the University of Virginia, which kicked Swem’s ass for each of the 24 hours it operated.
p. When I heard about Swem’s budget cuts, I felt a familiar regression to freshman year and how hard it was to read for lack of a quiet room. I met with Dean of University Libraries Connie McCarthy to express my concerns.
p. Swem’s cuts are a mere scratch, nothing a Band-Aid can’t fix. The cuts are a trickled-down offshoot of a general budget cut by the state of Virginia. Everyone’s getting a little cut here and there. McCarthy assured me that nothing will really change. It’s not really a cut if you think about it. There will be a hiring freeze, at worst. Staff will not be asked to leave, but promotions shouldn’t be expected anytime soon.
p. “We just can’t move ahead with our plans,” McCarthy said, referring to the lifelong dream of former Student Assembly President Ryan Scofield ’07 to extend Swem’s hours on nights and weekends. “Late evenings are our first priority, and these hours won’t be cut,” she added.
p. Although Swem is now open until 2 a.m. on weeknights, there just isn’t enough security to keep the library up and running all night. “The building isn’t designed to operate all night,” McCarthy said, noting issues of security for students and taking into account the staff’s responsibilities. It’s also a matter of practicality, as energy, resources and money would be wasted in maintaining an overnight shift. There isn’t enough demand to keep the building running through the night, as the general student body seems okay with current hours. “It just isn’t practical to have the place open at four in the morning for one or two students,” she said.
p. Swem won’t extend its hours, but it also won’t cut any. One of the library’s potential plans would be to open earlier on weekends, especially on Sundays. As for finding a quiet place to read at night, well, you’re out of luck. Most campus buildings are locked by midnight. If you even think about doing homework in your dorm or your hall’s lounge or kitchen, you’re an idiot, and have no business reading to begin with. I don’t approve of the library’s 24-hour lounge, though. The bullet-proof, soundless study corner for four is pretty good, but small. For weekends, try Barnes and Noble in Colonial Williamsburg, which is open until 10 p.m. and serves better coffee than Swem’s vending machines.
p. If you really crave a concentration-friendly environment, adjust your hours to those of Swem. The early bird gets the worm, which I’m told is a good thing. There are far more fascinating things you could be doing at night than writing a paper; plus, you won’t need to squat in a locked-up building all night, reading yourself to unsteady sleep. By doing your readings earlier in the day, you’ll have a well-rested mind and all of Swem to yourself, as most students are nocturnal. In the basement and on the third floor, you will enjoy that eerie Swem silence.
p. __Sherif Abdelkarim is a junior at the College.__