Discourse / Editorials / November 5, 2008

‘Just say no’ to a 24 hour library

I strongly disagree with the 24-hour library initiative, and with a few of the claims in last week’s “Thoughts from the Embers” which discussed why this would be a positive change.

The column claimed that the change “could…save energy by encouraging students to study together [in the library].” I presume the argument behind this is that since students will not be in their rooms with their lights on, they will be saving energy. I must say however, that for a study place, the library is less efficiently lit than a dorm room. In a dorm room, each person may use one light bulb per person, perhaps two or three at most. The library, on the other hand, even during peak usage hours, never has a ratio of one light bulb to one person. Sure, a person may not even turn on a light when they enter the library, but between all the lighting for the stacks, and in nearly every room on four floors, this system is far less efficient than one person in a room studying with one bulb. This is certainly less efficient than multiple people studying under one or two bulbs in an apartment or suite.

The usage of the library, I predict, would be extremely low if it was open 24 hours. I do not know anyone who would actually make a habit of studying at 5 a.m. It seems like something people have just wished they had in one rare moment or another. I certainly do not know enough people who would regularly study overnight, even during finals, to make such a plan energy efficient.

One might argue that despite the fact that the plan is energy inefficient, it is worth having for the convenience and comfort of students. Contrary to what is claimed by the column and many of those in support of the initiative, however, I want to argue that it would not improve quality of life on campus.

First, let me point out why I believe a 24-hour library is a slippery slope towards 24-hour culture, and why this would be destructive.

I believe that currently having the library closed in the early morning hours suggests that people do not study during this time. Opening it will then provide an institutional signal that this is now important study time, and that students should consider using it. So, more people will study at night.

This also means more people will be hungry at night. People might then think it wise to open the Gizmo for 24 hours. People’s sleep schedules would start to vary, and become more individualized. “I sleep from 7 p.m. – 4 a.m., and then wake up and eat at the Gizmo, and then work with my study group from 5:30 – 7:30 a.m. in the library.”

People will need to staff the library (and then the Gizmo or any other secondary services to accommodate the late night studying). These people, most likely motivated economically rather than by a desire to stay up all night, will then be pushed into staying up late.

A significant chunk of students will be working a job from anytime between 2 and 7 a.m. Then their sleep schedules will be forced to shift to sleeping during the day, or perhaps just sleeping less.

This would have negative impacts on personal health as well as the sense of community on our campus. Having the library open all the time, I believe, would imply that there is so much work at Knox, that it is necessary to pull all-nighters.

A Knox professor once told me that if you must regularly pull all-nighters, you are at the wrong school. I have stayed up all night before, but I am not proud of it. It was a product of disorganization, not need.

Sleep deprivation is already a problem on our campus and in our society at large. Not getting enough sleep impairs decision-making, and increases the risk of depression, heart disease, hypertension, and irritability.

At a college that is supposed to help us be happy and change the world, encouraging the above is hypocritical. Even if people slept eight hours every day under a 24-hour culture, it would be hard to sleep well because there would be increased pressure to be up late at night, so people would have to fight against their biological clocks to sleep a few hours here and few hours there.

A 24-hour culture, as promoted by a 24-hour library, would also erode our community, because it would force people to sleep and be awake at radically different times. People who work and study at night would be alienated by their need to sleep all day.

In the future, you could imagine hearing people say, “I really would like to be your friend, but I sleep most of the time you are awake. Sorry.” This would particularly be the case for those working student jobs in the library. As a community, there is great value in sleeping together and waking together.

The column last week claimed it “sucks” to be “forced” to study late at night, especially in the unattractive Founders. I completely agree. The answer is to change these mysterious powers that “force” us to be up late studying, not to open the library all night long. We need to identify these forces and make social adjustments to eliminate them. Perhaps we are disorganized; perhaps there is too much work. If so, those are the factors which need to be changed. And perhaps we can make Founders more appealing?

Let us reclaim our right to sleep when it is dark outside, and save the human, political and electrical energy that would be wasted on the library initiative, in order to spend it on something more worthwhile.

Joey Firman

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