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Finals week is upon us again. The calendar – though probably not the weather – will tell you that the year is wrapping up, and that over the next few days the WPI student body should prepare for a crushing gauntlet of final exams, projects, and papers. At this point, the end of the term brings a routine largely familiar to people here. Students will stumble up to campus each morning, bleary-eyed and desperately clutching a can of Monster or a cup of coffee to their hearts like a fragile newborn baby, to begin another twelve, sixteen or perhaps 24-hour day of work.
There’s nothing abjectly terrible about this, of course, unless you happen to be opposed to excessive intake of stimulants and nearly unreadable Facebook status updates brought about by fatigue and delirium. WPI students are generally used to the pressure of the term system. One thing sticks out as a persistent problem which we all have had to deal with in some way or another, though: The university has a distinct lack of late-night study space.
Few people actually want to be up late into the night so that they can finish their work. Long nights are tough. They always have a constant air of anxiety about them, and by the time an assignment is finished everybody involved looks about as good as they smell. Unfortunately, the stress of the night is compounded by a relatively small set of accessible labs and other study facilities late in the evening.
The university library is a good example of this. WPI has done quite well in improving the library, particularly at the main floor. Many people had trouble focusing and working inside prior to the renovation and rearrangement of most of the main study areas. It now stands as a focal gathering point for students who are trying to work, be it in project groups or as individuals.
Overall, the building is a good place to study, disregarding the fact that it can get pretty hot inside. Its hours, however, are not quite as good. The library closes at 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday respectively. This means that at a time when many students are either working frantically to finish (or start) assignments, a significant portion of WPI’s study space is cut off to them.
When that fateful hour comes, students are left to fend for themselves when finding places to work, resulting in a bid for space so intense in its cruelty and selfishness that it would make Ayn Rand blush.
Without the library, much of the remaining study space fills up pretty quickly, at least in part because of a relative lack of 24-hour lab space available. Many of us are familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of students jammed together in Higgins Labs and Kaven Hall. It can be pretty uncomfortable being stuck in those spaces at really late hours, especially when with lots of other students.
Often, labs will be closed to all but a small portion of the WPI population beyond a certain hour, including the IMGD lab in Fuller and much of the lab space in Atwater Kent. This isn’t without reason, of course; these labs often contain expensive equipment or software which may be mishandled or stolen if the space is open to the general student body. However, the closure of the lab spaces means students need to resort to clever tricks to get into the labs or simply learn to live with less space.
One solution which I and other students stand behind is to either extend the library’s open hours or simply keep the library open for 24 hours. Doing so would ease a large degree of pressure on those who need a place to study and work late into the night. There would, of course, be extra costs associated with keeping the library open later, but ultimately the money would likely be quite well-spent.
This isn’t to say that WPI has been neglecting students’ study needs. The available lab facilities are fine, when they aren’t overcrowded. As a university that makes a note of how hard-working its students are, though, we do need occasional – and sometimes more than occasional – access to study facilities that are properly in sync with our schedules. Programs like extended library hours during finals week (not to mention midnight breakfasts) are great; it may do us a world of good to expand them and cover students’ needs for the whole term.