Students advocate for extended campus library hours, employees raise concerns

Photo of girl sitting in Moffitt Library
Hsi-Min Chan/Staff
UC Berkeley students express concerns about the reduced hours of campus libraries, advocating they return to 24-hour services due to lack of reliable study spaces and safety concerns.

As most students have returned to in-person learning, some are demanding increased campus services, including extended library hours.

A flyer which circulated around Moffitt Library at the beginning of the school year noted the library used to be open 24 hours daily, but is now only open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays. The flyer included a QR Code that linked to a petition addressing the issue that would be sent to “appropriate campus administration.”

“Many of us don’t have a quiet place to study and are greatly impacted by the limited library hours,” said campus student Anthony Dunn in a post about the flyer on the Overheard at UC Berkeley Facebook page.

Students asking for increased library hours cite limited access to on-campus study spaces as a major issue.

Campus senior Skyler-Myles Clinton said businesses closing early, crowded residential housing situations due to the campus housing crisis and safety concerns are among the reasons why campus libraries should remain open for longer to provide a space conducive to student learning.

“If the school had 24-hour libraries, that would make a lot more sense,” Clinton said, “We have nowhere good to go as an alternative.”

During quarantine, from March 2020 to mid-July 2021, almost all library services were provided online. The library also provided limited contactless pickup services, as well as limited in-person research appointments for access to the historical archives in Bancroft Library, according to Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, a campus librarian and professor in the School of Information and department of economics.

Nearly all of Berkeley’s 24 libraries opened on the first day of classes this semester.

“Though more services than before the pandemic are still available online, most of our on-campus services have been restored,” MacKie-Mason said in an email.

Campus libraries are currently working on increasing and training new staff in order to be able to function back to the pre-pandemic capacity, according to MacKie-Mason.

While many students are requesting increased library hours, some have raised concerns over the impact this will have on library staff.

According to Andrew Singharath, a campus junior and library employee, campus libraries are understaffed and employees have had to pick up other positions outside of their own department due to the staff shortage.

“I like the idea of 24/7 service, I just don’t think we have the resources to have the 24-hour services,” Singharath said.

Budget cuts have also limited the library’s ability to offer increased hours. According to MacKie-Mason, the state has been reducing campus funding per student for the past 20 years. The costs of the pandemic have only exacerbated this issue.

The UC Berkeley Library has experienced an 11% reduction in its funding over the past two years alone, he added.

“With such large, ongoing reductions, service adjustments are unavoidable,” MacKie-Mason said in the email. “The Library is currently working to prioritize the hiring of full-time positions that support our on-campus services while also balancing our budget challenges.”

According to Junior Mejia, a readmitted student and library employee, 24-hour library services could pose health and safety concerns. Custodians clean and sanitize the libraries when students are not there, so having a constant wave of students studying and working in libraries brings up the question of when and how libraries will be cleaned, he said.

Even so, Singharath views increased library hours as a potential source of increased jobs and income for students. According to MacKie-Mason, the UC Berkeley Library is one of the largest employers of students on campus.

With this reliance on student employees comes the challenge of finding students willing to work later shifts, MacKie-Mason noted. According to Mejia, first-year hires will most likely be taking on late-night shifts, which raises concerns around their limited training and experience.

In a Twitter thread on this topic, many students also expressed concerns about the physical and mental health effects working late-night shifts may have on student employees.

In response to student needs, according to MacKie-Mason, the UC Berkeley Library will be opening Moffitt and the Main Gardner Stacks for 24-hour access during Reading, Review and Recitation Week and finals week. Plans for extended hours in other campus libraries in the spring are also in the works, MacKie-Mason added, since Moffitt will be undergoing mandatory seismic retrofitting.

“Through the hard times, our staff have worked tirelessly,” McKie-Mason said in the email. “We remain committed to do all we can to support the teaching, research and learning of Berkeley’s students and faculty.”

Contact Dima Aboukasm at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @DimaAboukasm.