Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to more accurately reflect the current library hours, the name of Dean Robert McDonald and the total number of University Libraries.
Guest opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of the CU Independent or its staff.
I always enjoy reading the inscription, “Enter here the timeless fellowship of the human spirit” above the West-facing doors of Norlin Library. Currently, however, that fellowship is only “timeless” from 7:45 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the weekdays. On Saturdays, Norlin is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
CU Boulder also has four other branch libraries, distributed across the campus in specific colleges. They are the Howard B. Waltz Music Library, the William M. White Business Library the Jerry Crail Johnson Earth Sciences & Map Library and the Leonard H. Gemmill Engineering, Mathematics & Physics Library. The William A. Wise Law Library is part of the University of Colorado Law School and is not administratively part of the University Libraries at CU Boulder.
These branch libraries are mostly only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week. The William A. Wise Law Library is one of the only exceptions to this rule, with hours from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. on weekdays.
This is a significant problem for several reasons.
First, the library holds research material. Less access to libraries means less access to that material. That problem affects the entire academic community: the student body – graduate and undergraduate – and the faculty. CU Boulder is ranked as a Research I university. That means its research output is high in both quantity and quality. Maintaining generous library hours should be a high priority for such an institution.
Furthermore, Norlin stays open until 11 p.m. but the branch libraries close at 5 p.m. which results in curtailed educational and research opportunities based on students’ academic field. Students who only have materials in the branch libraries have less access than their Norlin-based peers, simply because a separate building houses their material. The one exception among the branch libraries is the William A. Wise Law Library, which is open until 7 p.m. to the public and open until 10 p.m. for scholarly and professional work. In contrast to the other branch libraries, the law library is even able to maintain those late hours over the weekend. Does this not drive home the point of institutional discrimination?
No one is opposed to the law library having generous hours – they should have generous hours. But why can’t all branch libraries have generous hours? Do musicians, geologists, entrepreneurs, and mathematicians not need access to their materials just as much as lawyers?
Additionally, undergrad days are packed full of lectures, labs, rehearsals, recitations, etc., and students rely on evenings and weekends to get their work done. If the libraries’ open hours overlap with your full day of lectures and recitations, and you rely on the weekends and evenings to get homework done, then it must feel like sabotage for the university to close its libraries so early. The solution is to expand library hours. They should be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p. m. every day, including weekends.
To be absolutely clear, I am not accusing anyone of consciously trying to inconvenience students, least of all the library staff or administration. I know that the libraries have been understaffed since COVID, and it has been a struggle to fix that.
Finally, the problem of our severely restricted library hours must be remedied because libraries are not merely repositories for research materials; they are a space for people to read, write, and do research in peace. That was the advantage of the overnight hours in Norlin Commons. Many students (myself included) find night hours more conducive to scholarly activities than the day when we have all sorts of things to do.
It needs to be a higher priority to restore the library system’s hours. Before the pandemic, Norlin circulation was open to midnight and the Commons were open overnight through the week. Branch libraries had limited weekend hours, but they existed, and they stayed open later during the week. It is urgent that the university restore generous evening and weekend hours to branch libraries so that students working in those libraries have access to materials and can do their assignments.
Branch libraries ought to be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., even on the weekends. It is of lesser urgency, but still important, that the university restore overnight hours in the Commons. If these things cannot be achieved, then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is mismanagement.
Charles Wofford is a doctorate student in historical musicology and critical theory, and the president of the Graduate Musicology Society at CU Boulder.
Contact CU Independent Guest Writer Charles Wofford at email@example.com.