University Library extends computer lab availability to 24 hours amid staff shortage

By Zach Strohecker, Sept. 21, 2021

The University Library reinstated 24-hour operations for the Bronco Computer Lab, located on the library’s first floor, on Sept. 7. The extension follows students voicing concerns about needing computers to attend virtual classes after the library closes.

This semester, the library reopened its doors to students with shortened hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, due to a staff shortage coming off virtual instruction. Yet, with the majority of courses operating entirely online or in a hybrid format, the library extended the lab hours and is implementing new protocols to better serve students.

Before the extension, students with evening Zoom classes that surpassed the 8 p.m. closing time were ushered out of the building. This motivated the library to reinstitute the 24-hour schedule six days a week, according to University Library Dean Pat Hawthorne.

“There was a question a student posed about, ‘Where do I go after 8 p.m.?’ And so the other students were responding and talking about the fact that they were trying to drive around in the different parking lots to find Wi-Fi and do it from their car and so on,” Hawthorne said.

Students study quietly on their personal computers in the 2nd floor open area. (Photo by Zach Strohecker)

The computer lab is an unstaffed facility students can access through their Bronco ID card. Extending the lab’s hours provides students with an essential service without expending limited library personnel, according to Alyssa Loera, head of the Digital Services and Technology Department.

“We worked with the Safer Return Task Force to assess the area and they gave us the OK to let it be more self-accountable so that if you’re a student, you’re on your own to socially distance and to wear a mask,” said Loera. “We determined that the need was great enough, and the trust level was great enough that it was OK to open six days a week, 24 hours, and then to have Saturday as a deep cleaning day.”

During open hours, there are about 300 desktop computers available for students to use. Normally, the sound and microphone settings are disabled for security reasons but with high demand for Zoom capabilities, the library pivoted to offering headsets with microphones for students. A webcam is not available for desktop computers to comply with security protocols; however, loaner laptops are equipped with them.

Students can check out laptops with hotspots for an entire semester or request a four-hour loan. There are over 400 laptops (many new ones) and 500 hotspots available for long-term checkout and 25 laptops, with more on the way, for hourly checkout, Loera added.

The library is also continuing to provide the 24/7 Bronco Lockers service which helps students acquire library materials, materials from the bookstore, transcripts and official documents from the Registrar’s Office.

The lockers are located outside the south entrance of the Bronco Bookstore. They are available 24 hours a day and can be used to pick up materials after the facilities have closed, according to Hawthorne.

The library is also bringing back features students appreciated before the campus closed such as group study rooms.

Regular library patron and animal science student, Kanon Lopez, mentioned the study rooms are a valuable option for group work.

For Juan Felix, an accounting student, the printing and photocopy services are the main reasons for using the library, in addition to his interest in the Learning Resource Center.

Looking ahead, the library is pushing to extend its overall operating hours before winter when studying outdoors at night is not an option and crowding the Starbucks is not ideal, according to Loera.

“That hinges upon staffing, and I’m trying to keep that balance of doing as much as we can with what we have, so that means that we’re just constantly pushing for more staff,” Loera said.

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