Dean of university libraries: Ablah doesn’t have the resources to stay open 24 hours


Brian Hayes

Alan Cedeno, left, and Venkat Navin, right, study in Ablah Library on Wednesday morning. Cedeno is studying quantum mechanics and working towards his masters in physics. Navin is working towards his masters in computer networking. Both students have 1 semester left before graduating.

Weekdays at Ablah Library end abruptly when the intercom kicks on at midnight and bleary-eyed students are serenaded with an instrumental rendition of Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road Jack.”

Dean of University Libraries Kathy Downes said calls to make Ablah a 24-hour facility are nothing new.

“We’ve had requests for 24 hours before, which is one of the reasons why the 24-hour study room was built,” Downes said.

The annex to the north of the library, which fits roughly 30 people, provides tables, computers, and vending machines — but no books or restrooms.

Downes said there’s a science to determining Ablah’s hours of operation. A gate counter at the building’s entrance keeps track of visitors and calculates an hourly frequency for analysis.

“What we’re looking at is how many people come in at certain times, and how many people are leaving, and then looking at those numbers to determine what hours we can provide within the budget that we do have,” Downes said. “Our budget has been relatively flat for a number of years.”

The University Libraries operating budget for fiscal year 2019 is $3,108,727 — up from $3,045,401 for 2018 and $3,009,430 for 2017.

Downes said the library’s hours are tailored to when the facility is in highest demand.

“We used to have much longer hours in certain times in the weekend, but no one was coming, so if that’s going to happen, let’s take those hours and put them in the times where we’re seeing more people coming in,” Downes said.

The University of Kansas’s Anschutz Library stays open 24 hours on weekdays. Kansas State’s Hale Library is closed for the 2018-2019 academic year after a fire in May that significantly damaged the building.

Downes said a 24-hour operating schedule for Ablah would be an irresponsible use of resources.

“It sounds good in theory, but if at three in the morning, there are two people there consistently, then is that a good use of funding, or could that funding be used in other services that would support students?” Downes said.

She said keeping the library open would require three or four staffers to stay on overnight. That’s the case when Ablah extends its hours to 2 a.m. during finals week.

“You want to have a person to be able to walk each of the floors as well as on the first floor, and to be able to close down the building,” Downes said. “In a pinch, you can do it in three, but generally, a four crew is a safe crew.”

Downes said there have been talks of expanding Ablah’s 24-hour room.

“Expanding that, we would need a restroom facility to make it comfortable for a larger group,” Downes said.

She said there’s currently no timeline for expansion.

“We’ve had, over the years, several proposals, and it all depends on what’s happening on campus — what resources are available for that,” Downes said.

She said her goal for the library is to allocate money to provide services that have the maximum impact on student success.

“We support faculty research, of course, and that’s part of the university mission, but when we look at the numbers of who we’re serving, it’s the students, and we want to make sure that they’re successful,” Downes said.