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Up All Night at the Public Library

by on March 24, 2015

24/7 – what does that make you think of? 7-Eleven? Taco Bell? Las Vegas? How about your local public library? Back in my college days, our university library would stay open all night for a few weeks around the end of the semester. This was to allow students extra time to study for exams (remember cramming?) and complete their research assignments. Well, now the Salt Lake City Public Library (SLCPL) in Utah is proposing to stay open 24/7. Opening all hours is unprecedented, and as a result SLCPL has created a webpage to address their community’s questions and concerns – http://slcpl.org/24hours.

Here is some background on Salt Lake City Public Library’s 24/7 proposal. The idea of remaining open all night came out of a discussion with Jason Mathis of the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance; Bill Evans, former director of government relations for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Bruce Bastian, one of the founders of WordPerfect software. The three of them were concerned with Salt Lake City’s teenage homeless problem, and inquired if it was feasible for the library to provide space for the teens at night. SLCPL Executive Director John Spears did not want to open the library up at night for only the homeless teens, but instead suggested keeping the library open at night for everyone. When queried , the library board was receptive to a formal assessment of this possibility as well.

For those of us working in public libraries we may be thinking that this 24/7 proposal seems like a potential logistical nightmare, but Spears has clearly put a lot of thought into it. He aims to keep only the bottom two floors open at night, while utilizing runners to fetch items from floors three to six. Security will also be on hand to alleviate concerns over drug use, prostitution, and patrons camping out.  He hopes to use a grant to fund this initiative, and the grant will pay for a permanent set of staff to work the night shifts. The period of the grant as proposed is for two years. After that time has elapsed, the program will be evaluated to see if it will be made permanent.

As expected, there are some concerns from the community. These concerns are primarily about security, the homeless, and alcohol/drug use. Anybody who has ever worked in an urban library knows something about each of these issues. One way to alleviate these concerns is Spears’ desire to fund the two year grant solely with private and corporate donations—no public money will be involved. Regardless, these are still some serious considerations to factor in. Along with. . . Who will really use the library at these hours? Will it be the desired late shift workers, night owls, hipsters, and college students? Or will it instead be a haven for those with nowhere else to go and those looking for trouble? We keep hearing how libraries need to adapt or risk becoming obsolete, but is there really a demand for our urban libraries to be open 24/7? I suspect the majority of patrons who will take advantage of this new implementation will be the displaced, and those looking for a last minute movie rental. For now, this is getting the library some publicity, and creating many conversations in the media. We will all have to stay tuned to see what happens.

Until then, what do you think? Would a 24/7 schedule help serve your community?

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