All-night Swemming

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January 27, 2011

11:22 PM

Night owls — gather your laptops, your blankets, your newly Trenta-sized coffee cups. According to Interim Dean of University Libraries Bea Hardy, the possibility of a 24-hour Earl Gregg Swem Library may be on the horizon. At a recent Student Assembly meeting, SA Sen. Stef Felitto ’12 announced that Hardy has made clear to SA members that one of her goals is to open Swem on weekdays for 24 hours, all year long.

We are glad to greet this frankly long-overdue possibility. We applaud the interim dean for her willingness to bring this issue to the forefront. In the midst of a cost-cutting environment, it takes courage to suggest an expansion of services, however vital. Her willingness to attack such problems head on proves she is well suited to the position. We would also encourage the SA to continue talks with Hardy and to do what it can to help her realize this goal.

Of course, there is the inevitable problem with which Hardy must first contend (the same concern that has met any recent attempt at change within the College of William and Mary community): the budget. As we hear time and time again, we just don’t have the money.

Frankly, we’re tired of this excuse. And it has become an excuse, a simple way to avoid dealing with any potentially difficult policy decision.

To be fair, we o have been quick to run to that well — or pointing to the empty well, as it were. We refuse to allow budget cuts to force the necessary decision making processes of the College to come to a halt. Instead of waiting for the mythical day, recession miracuously ended, when money begins flooding into the College, we need to learn to operate and provide central services despite budget constraints. There’s a difference between fiscal responsibility and remaining entirely and debilitating static.

Many of our peer institutions — the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech among them — have long funded 24-hour libraries, some more than one. That the College has never followed suit is immediately counter-intuitive. The library is central to the College’s academically focused culture — surely we’re one of the only colleges in existence to have turned our library into a verb. Swem is one of the best collegiate libraries in the nation. To allow Swem to continue operating without 24-hour availability gives the impression that the College lags behind its rival schools. Obviously, library hours are a relatively superficial measure of a university’s quality, but lagging behind in such an immediately obvious capacity plays into a narrative of flagging prestige that the administration should take every effort to avoid.

While extending these hours would come with a price tag, the actual added cost is surprisingly low, given the necessity of the service. The SA bill, which opens Swem 24 hours during the two weeks of finals, costs $3,648. To apply this to the full academic year, therefore, would land somewhere in the range of $60,000. There are a variety of ways to fund what little costs extending the library’s hours would require.

Even restricted to the Swem budget itself, there are areas where funds can be reallocated. For example, the Media Center is now open until midnight, which could easily be scaled back to 8 p.m. Swem could also limit its capabilities during overnight hours by shutting off computers — few students would stay overnight without a laptop, anyway — or limiting access to upper floors. In this respect, the interim dean would obviously know best the structure of her department’s budget, but it can certainly be done.
Another equally legitimate option would be to create a referendum to add an additional amount, roughly $10, to student fees, easily covering the cost. We can think of few more equitable uses of student funds than making the campus’s central building more accessible.

This goal remains easily in reach. It is now up to the students and the College to make this collegiate basic a reality.

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