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It is not often that I wish I went to Columbia University. Personally, I think Princeton boasts a far prettier campus, more intellectually-diverse faculty, and a more undergraduate-focused educational mission. That said, every finals season, as I sit in my dimly lit Whitman room on a Saturday night, I wonder why Princeton’s Firestone Library has such unreasonable hours — especially when Columbia’s Butler Library is open 24 hours a day during their academic year.
During the academic year, Firestone Library, Princeton’s flagship library, is open 8 a.m.–2 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Sunday. While those hours seem accommodating (and in many ways they are) for early risers and many others during finals week, these hours are insufficient. Princeton University needs to expand its flagship library’s hours, especially on the weekends and during finals. And it need not look further than Columbia’s Butler Library for inspiration.
If Princeton wants to limit its hours during the school year to incentivize students to relax on the weekends, the logic fails during our exam period. Princeton’s registrar notoriously does not discriminate between weekdays and weekends. This year alone, out of 147 finals listed on the registrar, 46 — almost a third of all finals — were between Friday night and Sunday night, when the library employs its “weekend hours.” If I can be forced to take an exam at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning, why is the library not open for studying at that time? After all, the University has clearly decided that that’s a reasonable “working” time.
Even outside of exam season, Firestone’s weekend morning hours leave early risers like me constantly frustrated. A University that claims to genuinely care about mental health should note that multiple studies have shown that waking up early and working outside of one’s sleeping space is better for one’s health and productivity. Why does it seem like Firestone’s hours cater to the nocturnal college student while leaving the early risers in the dust? For early risers, every day presents a challenge: do we choose our most productive time or our most productive place? Firestone’s hours of operation won’t grant us both.
While I could certainly say that Firestone should open at 7 a.m. on weekdays instead of 8 a.m. (indeed, anyone who has ever waited outside Firestone in the frigid temperatures for that 8 a.m. “ding” would likely agree with me), I think the better question to ask ourselves is why Firestone Library is ever closed? I know it’s a tremendous cost and the hardworking cleaning staff might use the weekend time to do different things around the library, but I keep asking myself: if Columbia can do it, why can’t Princeton?
Columbia’s Butler Library accommodates students’ needs while balancing operating costs by closing parts of the library during nighttime hours. To ensure that keeping Firestone open longer would not break the bank, Firestone could operate on a similar model. Come 2 a.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends, studying can be limited to Trustee Reading Room or the first floor. That limits the cost and allows cleaners to do their job without interference.
While residential college libraries and study spots are always available, there are benefits to a library like Firestone that simply cannot be had elsewhere (and as a big standing-desk girl myself, I’ll take that one to the grave!). For many students, a bright, clean, and beautiful space to do work is important to their academic success and mental health. Princeton ought to reconsider Firestone’s hours for this coming fall. Until then, I’ll buy another lamp for my Whitman dungeon.
Danielle Shapiro is a sophomore from West Orange, N.J. She can be reached at email@example.com.