Silence in the Library

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November 14, 2008

1:12 AM

Students hoping to study into the early morning were turned away from Swem Library two nights last week when unanticipated medical emergencies, paired with a campus-wide hiring freeze, forced the library to lock up at midnight rather than the usual 2 a.m. closing time.

According to Pat Van Zandt, Swem’s Director of Research, Instruction and Outreach Services, the early closings on Sunday, Nov. 2, and Monday, Nov. 3, occurred due to “an unfortunate confluence of circumstances” surrounding the schedules of Swem’s late-night security guards, who work as members of the College of William and Mary Police Department.

One of the guards was unable to work due to a serious medical situation, while another guard had resigned from his position, according to Police Chief Don Challis. Due to the hiring freeze, the police were unable to fill the vacant position in order to provide the two guards necessary to staff Swem’s late shift.

When the library’s night supervisor noticed that the security guards were absent, she called the Campus Police dispatcher, who confirmed that no guards were available for the 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift. After consulting with Dean of University Libraries Connie McCarthy, the supervisor decided to close the library at midnight, the time at which the circulation desk closes on most evenings. Because Swem has no public address system, the night supervisor individually alerted students to the earlier closing time.

“If we had stayed open, we would have had to keep our regular staff on until 2 a.m.,” Van Zandt said.

According to Challis, the early closings at Swem were precipitated in part by the campus-wide moratorium on hiring that College President Taylor Reveley enacted on Oct. 9 due to recent state budget cuts.

“The hiring freeze did have an impact on our ability to staff the library,” Challis said. “We had a security officer who left the department and another who was out for an illness, [and] both of these were unanticipated.”

Challis added that the campus police often use a security contractor to fill in for sick guards, but that sometimes the contractor is unable to provide coverage, as was the case Nov. 2 and 3.

According to an e-mail sent by Reveley to the campus community Tuesday, the hiring freeze that left students locked out of Swem could be lifted sometime soon.

“We have reduced our maintenance and operation budget by 5 percent across the board, and asked each major budget manager to identify one vacant full-time position that can remain vacant until June 30, 2009,” Reveley said in the e-mail. “The savings from these actions … should enable us to remove the current hiring freeze before long.”

Challis said that two additional security guards were hired this week.

Van Zandt stressed that she wasn’t seeking to place blame for the closing on any single individual.

Both she and Challis, indicated that a last-minute change in closing time was unlikely to happen again in the near future.

“We are set for the rest of the semester, and will work to ensure that we won’t have a repeat of the problem any time next semester,” Van Zandt said.

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