Libraries around campus are introducing a number of policy changes this semester to increase available study space for undergraduates, but the biggest change—the addition of 300 study seats in Butler and Lehman libraries—could still be in the fairly distant future.
The lack of study space—a perennial issue on Columbia’s Morningside campus—sparked tension last semester when Watson, the business and economics library, banned most undergraduates during finals. That decision sparked a campus-wide discussion about the need for more seating in libraries, and the debate now includes the issue of having separate spaces intended for graduate students.
Damon Jaggars, associate University librarian for collections and services, said the University hopes to add 150 seats to Butler Library and 150 seats to Lehman Library in order to alleviate the competition between undergraduate and graduate students for study space.
The implementation of these seats, however, is still an “ongoing discussion” between the libraries, the provost’s office, and undergraduate deans, Jaggars said. Before the seats can be added, the libraries must find the money to relocate infrequently used print materials and renovate these areas with power and wireless access.
Columbia College Student Council academic affairs representative Nora Habboosh, CC ’14, said in an email that she would welcome the additional seats, but added that quality is just as important as quantity in finding a suitable solution to study space issues.
“We also need to be careful about the way we are using the space to ensure that each of these new seats is not only well equipped for us ... but also does not cram the area such that all students are then uncomfortable,” she said.
The need for more undergraduate study space is underscored by the continued expansion of graduate-only spaces in Columbia’s other libraries.
The Starr East Asian Library and the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library have blocked off areas that are restricted to graduate students or at least give them preference.
Avery, which has historically assigned carrels for art history and architecture Ph.D. students, now has signs designating preferential seating for students and faculty in these programs at the 300-level tables adjacent to the windows.
In Starr, two tables in the back of the main reading room are designated as priority seating for East Asian Languages and Cultures graduate students. The library has also added eight graduate-only study carrels on the 100-level in place of a large microfilm collection that was moved last year.
The tables in both Avery and Starr will be reserved throughout the semester, while Watson is maintaining its policy of restricting access only during midterm and finals seasons.
Jaggars said the goal of these restrictions is to ensure that students who need to use the materials in specialized libraries have the space to do so.
Librarians also emphasized that it is only space, not materials, that face restrictions.
“If students need assistance or materials available in Watson, they are welcome to them,” Kathleen Dreyer, the head librarian at Watson, said. “It’s important to me that undergraduates don’t feel like they can’t get resources.”
Some undergraduates, however, feel shortchanged by what they see as preferential treatment for graduates.
“If these policies of reserving room for graduate students are enacted again this semester and extend to Avery and Starr, I would expect an even more exacerbated level of frustration and increased stress levels from the undergraduate population,” Habboosh said.
President of the Graduate Student Advisory Council Ahmet-Hamdi Cavusoglu, GSAS ’16, agreed that space concerns have led to tension between undergraduate and graduate students.
Hamdi believes, however, that the reserved space in Avery and Starr will benefit only graduate students in certain departments, and that more graduate study space is still needed overall.
“Space is needed for them to do their work—otherwise, they cannot provide instructional services to undergraduates, they cannot provide the assistance needed by professors to keep up the prestigious name of this institution, amongst a whole other list of problems,” he said.
At the suggestion of undergraduate student council leaders, the libraries have also added a new “Study Spaces Open Now” feature on the Library Hours website page to help students find available study space. Students can click to see which libraries are still open, and libraries will drop off of the list as they close.
Aside from the substantive concerns, Habboosh noted that some of the undergraduate frustration about policy changes last spring resulted from the lack of communication between the libraries and the student body.
“Undergraduate students were not included in the conversations that led to this decision,” she said. “I understand that our campus has limited space and numerous schools, meaning that compromise will be involved, but undergraduate students should nevertheless be involved in these discussions.”
The libraries have sought to correct this by more clearly communicating the restricted access well before peak periods. Watson will send an email to all undergraduate students two weeks before the change in policy to ensure that they are aware of the restrictions. In addition, there will be a sign put up at the library’s entrance and a notice posted on the libraries’ website reminding students of the access policy and listing alternate study spaces two weeks in advance.
Staff will also post a notice on the Watson blog, as well as on LCD panels in Watson, Butler, Lehman, and the Science and Engineering Library about available study spaces during peak periods.