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Douglas Kessel / Senior Staff Photographer

The resolution included photos taken last year during finals, showing Watson largely empty after 5 p.m.

Columbia College Student Council and the Engineering Student Council passed a resolution this week asking that undergraduates be allowed into Uris Hall's Watson Library after 5 p.m. during midterms and finals. 

Under a controversial policy introduced last semester before finals, all undergraduates except economics majors are banned from the library during midterms and finals.

The resolution states that in the short term, the councils “support a pilot program that reinstates undergraduate access.” Their long-term goal, however, is to have full access reinstated. 

Business School students tend to leave earlier in the day, whereas Butler's peak hour is 11 p.m., the resolution states.

The ultimate decision lies with Columbia University Libraries. The resolution proposes that library staff collect data about Watson's usage during the pilot program. This data would then be shared with relevant parties like the undergraduate councils, in preparation for “a nonbiased review by the University Senate Libraries committee for a final decision for spring 2014.”

Students enjoy studying at Watson because it has open space and tables good for groups and allows talking.

Data on the volume of people utilizing the library during every hour is getting collected at Watson Library throughout this fall midterm season. Once the midterm season is over, the library staff will be able to go over the data, and understand the peak and low times of library use. It will then become clear to the libraries committee which policies are feasible and which are not.

“The decision mainly lies with them and not so much the library administrators on whether undergraduates will regain access to the library,” CCSC President Daphne Chen, CC '14, said.

According to ESC President Siddhant Bhatt, SEAS '14, the undergraduate councils had been insistent on reversing the decision since it was implemented. 

“A lot of what was in our proposal has come out of discussions with administrators and different undergraduates,” he said. “The resolution was a way for us to formalize this into one document, which expressed where we felt with regards to the community.”

Bhatt stressed that the initial decision had been made without adequate consultation of undergraduates. 

“None of the stakeholders were involved,” he said. “There was a lot of involvement from the business school administration in direct conversation with the library administration.” 

Bhatt said the councils are standing by “three pillars” on the issue: the students' rights, the need for space, and the fact of underutilization. 

The resolution included photos taken last year during finals, showing Watson largely empty past 5 p.m. Bhatt said the photo had gained over 4,000 views on social media last year. 

“It's important to understand the point that we're not asking for a change, we're asking to revert back to the policy that was in place in the long term,” Bhatt added. 

Chen said that “all university libraries should be open to all university students at all times. We're stakeholders and this is a university library that everyone should have access to.”

CCSC and ESC remain in email conversation with the Business School council.

The head librarian of Watson library, Kathleen Dreyer, is generally supportive of allowing undergraduate access to the library, but she isn't the one who gets to make the call. If all undergraduates do regain access to the library, Dreyer thinks that it will not adversely affect her staff's workload.

“I guess there will be more questions to answer, but that's about it,” she said. “The only thing that would be worrying is how to state that message clearly to everyone in the Columbia community. People could be confused or frustrated if they came at the wrong time.”

The turnstiles and ID cards, if the desired policy change is implemented, will have to be reprogrammed to admit certain groups of students only at certain times.

“We're stakeholders, and this is a university library that everyone should have access to,” Chen said, calling the resolution “a logical, reasonable response backed up with evidence.”

But University Senator Akshay Shah, SEAS '14, said that he felt it was important to recognize that not all students were equal stakeholders in the Watson library. 

“In Uris itself, there are a lot of facilities that the Business School has invested in, and those funds are raised from Business School students, and it would be wrong to say that every student contributes to it equally,” he said. 

“This is about coming to a compromise,” he said. “I feel that on principle, all libraries at Columbia should be open to all students at Columbia. That's one of the bedrock principles of this institution, and we should live up to it.”

The issue will be discussed at a senate Executive Student Advisory Committee meeting Friday, and in a Libraries and Digital Resources sub-committee meeting later this month, Shah said. 

Business School students interviewed this week reacted mostly positively to the issue. 

“I usually use it in the middle of the day and by 5, I'm already too tired and go home anyway,” Derek Chen, Business '15, said of Watson. “It's fine if all undergraduates have access after 5. I guess it's more fair that way.”

Harvey Kim, Business '15, agreed that “everyone should be able to use it any time.”  |  @ColumbiaSpec

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