College Libraries Vie for Student Traffic

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Many college libraries are working hard to attract young scholars to facilities that no longer serve as a gathering place. In-room Internet access is a major competitor. The head of libraries for the University of Massachusetts, Jay Schafer, tells Scott Simon about the changes at his library's W.E.B. DuBois building.


College students do research on laptops and the Internet these days. One result is empty study carols in libraries. Now, this was a particular concern at the 28-story W.E.B. DuBois Library. It's among the tallest libraries in the world, certainly the tallest building at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst campus.

The director of libraries there, Jay Schafer, joins us from member station WFCR in Amherst. Thanks very much for being with us.

JAY SCHAFER: It's my pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And how lonely is it there?

SCHAFER: It's not lonely at all. I was just down in the Learning Commons and there's students everywhere. What we have done to renovate the library space has been very successful in countering the wave of having nobody in the library.

SIMON: What do you do to bring them in, put seats in the bucket, as they say in nightclubs?

SCHAFER: We did a renovation, put in new furniture, put in wireless connections for laptops. We have over 200 PCs in this space that have hardwired connections. We have a café in the lobby and we serve more coffee on campus than any other facility. We're open 24-hours a day, five days a week.

SIMON: The coffee shop that you mentioned was named by a student, I gather.

SCHAFER: Right. We had a contest. We wanted to put this coffee shop in the library. One of the students submitted Procrastination Station, and that one just caught everybody's attention. You know, it just seems to encapsulize what we wanted in that space.

SIMON: But Mr. Schafer, let me ask about what you know of your colleagues at other academic libraries. Is the falloff in foot traffic a pretty common problem?

SCHAFER: It's a very common phenomenon. Obviously, with many of our resources online now, faculty can and students can access the information from their dorm room, their office, their home, or anywhere in the world that they have an Internet connection. And what we're trying to do is just continue the library as an academic center on campus. You know, libraries have traditionally been both an area where people go to use resources, but also an area where students go to study, to meet people, to get out of their dormitories and have quiet space.

I was giving a presentation to the class of '55 and I was talking about this space and how we don't discourage socialization. And afterwards one of the women came up to me and she said, when you were talking about that, I was thinking about in 1955 I met my husband in the old library building. And we used to date in the library reading room.

SIMON: Oh...

SCHAFER: So I don't think we're changing things as much as just trying to evolve.

SIMON: Jay Schafer, director of libraries for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Thanks very much.

SCHAFER: My pleasure.

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