While the long-awaited 24/7 Marston Science Library will return to UF’s campus, the service may not be back for good.
UF’s student government announced on Instagram Jan. 13 that Marston Library would reinstate 24-hour services after spring break with funding secured through Provost Joe Glover. However, details of the deal reveal the provost agreed to fund the initiative only for the remainder of the Spring and Fall 2023 semesters for a pilot study that’ll collect data on overnight hour usage to inform future funding decisions.
Dean of University Libraries Judith Russell, who has worked at UF since 2007, said 24/7 libraries haven’t historically been a part of UF and SG was first in leading the effort.
“When we expanded to doing 24/7, it was because Student Government came forward with the money to do it, and so it began as a student government-funded initiative,” she said.
When asked about the possibility of other 24/7 libraries or study spaces reemerging, like Library West, Russell said data from a 2018 study conducted about Newell Hall found there were very few periods when traffic was high enough during the overnight hours to overwhelm the space.
“We have never seen enough data to justify the expense of having two or more libraries open [24/7],” she said.
Russell is unsure how the funding of a 24/7 Marston will continue if data collected through the upcoming pilot supports keeping the program long-term, she said. She communicated SG's integral role in funding the initiative in the past to Student Body President Lauren Lemasters.
“My personal belief is that the provost is more likely to participate in the funding if Student Government is also participating,” she said.
It’ll cost $205,826 to fund the upcoming pilot, which includes library staffing, security and cleaning support, Russell said.
Neither Student Body President Lauren Lemasters nor Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs Angela Lindner returned multiple requests for comment via phone and email.
Patrick Reakes, senior associate dean of scholarly resources and services at UF libraries, said the deal is similar to those made in the past. The last time Marston Library offered 24-hour services was also through a pilot conducted by the provost in 2018, Reakes said, which halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There's no commitment on [Glover’s] part beyond the end of December of this year,” Reakes said.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, there have been debates over whether the funding of 24/7 library services should come from central university funds or the SG budget, Reakes said.
The UF libraries department is always happy to provide students with 24-hour services, he said, but the funding to do so has never been available through its budget.
“If we have the flow of money coming in to pay for it, we're always willing to keep doing it,” Reakes said.
While SG has heavily participated in funding 24/7 libraries since 2012, Russell said SG leadership reprioritized funding 24-hour services for Newell Hall in 2017 after securing $10 million from the state legislature for renovations. SG leadership then became more opposed to allocating its budget to 24/7 libraries.
SG currently spends $147,000 a year to fund Newell Hall operations. It’s uncertain whether other parties are involved in the space’s funding.
Unlike a few previous studies, Russell said, the upcoming pilot won't compare data with Newell Hall. Marston Library was chosen for the study because the building’s open floor plan allows for easier data collection, she said.
While Laura Spears, director of assessment and user experience at UF libraries, will organize the study, newly hired staff members will periodically gather data by monitoring the library’s occupancy and student behaviors during overnight hours.
Russell’s interested in seeing the findings drawn from the upcoming study, as it has been five years since new research was published, she said.
Valrie Minson, assistant dean of assessment and student engagement and chair of the Marston Science Library, said she’s excited about bringing back 24/7 hours to Marston Library considering the library’s recent rise in usage.
“Ideally, we really wouldn't have a need for 24/7,” Minson said. “But the reality is that students have different demands placed on them, and studying late is just something that happens.”
However, she does believe more data is needed to justify the added expense, mostly stemming from overnight staffing.
“I think it's a good thing for us to offer 24/7 to provide a quiet study space,” she said. “But I also do think that that assessment of our data is important because it's expensive.”
Minson plans to hire roughly six new staff members to complete a two-week training program for working overnight hours, she said. The positions are posted on the UF jobs website.
Although Minson doesn’t want to encourage unhealthy study habits, she emphasized the importance of advertising the new service so students understand the resources available to them on campus.
“We shouldn't have students learning about 24/7 by word of mouth,” she said. “If a student needs to have a quiet space at 3 in the morning, then I want them to know that this service is available.”
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Amanda Friedman is a senior journalism major and the East Gainesville reporter for The Alligator. When she isn't reporting, she loves watching A24 movies, listening to Ariana Grande and reading books she found on TikTok.