When I used to envision my first semester at UT, studying in one of the vast on-campus libraries was always part of the picture. Whether it was from my mom recounting stories of her sleepless nights at the Perry-Castañeda Library or my graduated friends reminiscing about their times in the chandelier-clad Architecture and Planning Library, it was clear to me that beautiful libraries were a fundamental part of the college experience.
Of course, this semester did not live up to my expectations.
Because of COVID-19, almost all UT libraries remain closed to students. Students can only access select floors of the PCL and the reading rooms of the Life Science Library, even though campus remains open to the thousands of students who chose to return this fall.
No matter how classes are formatted, students still need the resources offered by UT’s libraries — resources for which their tuition pays.
Select spaces in the PCL and Life Science libraries are not enough. If campus is to stay open, and if UT is to continue to require full tuition despite a mostly virtual semester, we must be given access to facilities for which we pay. All libraries must reopen.
With virtual learning, the need for library access is even greater than in previous years, as students need spaces to study, take tests and attend online lectures.
“My roommate and I, we both can’t study in the same room,” said Nancy Mayen, early childhood education freshman. “Our classes overlap, so while she's on Zoom calls, I’m on Zoom calls, and then one of us has to find a place to relocate and because (the libraries are) closed … our places to study are very limited.”
According to library communications officer Travis Willmann, one of the main reasons for the closures is community health concerns.
However, these closures are not absolutely necessary to promote campus safety.
If the purpose is to halt the spread of COVID-19, it would make more sense for all the libraries to be open than only small portions of two. With more libraries open, fewer people will be in each, and there is more room for students to spread out.
Additionally, with social distancing, sanitation and face mask requirements — which are already implemented in the PCL — it is possible to both broaden students’ library access and maintain their safety.
The other reason for the libraries remaining closed is budget issues, Willmann said. He noted that the capacity of the few open floors of the PCL never even reached 50% of the limit, and the Life Science Reading Room only broke 50% capacity twice.
“With numbers like that … investing money in opening more spaces for students right now just doesn't make a lot of sense," Willman said.
However, the more students hear of budget cuts, the more frustrated they get. Students saw a 2.6% increase in tuition this semester but a sharp decrease in access to the amenities for which their tuition covers.
“I understand that there's facility upkeep and staff that needs to be paid, but I feel like there has to be some sort of reparations,” said advertising senior Sophia Ojeda. “Not only keeping tuition as is but increasing it for some students is completely asinine to me. I just don’t think it takes into consideration the perspective of students.”
The economic repercussions of COVID-19 have been hard on everyone, which is precisely why students should not be expected to pay for resources they will not be permitted to access.
UT’s libraries are meant to be used by and for its students. Keeping students out of them defeats that purpose, especially as it is not completely necessary for maintaining their safety.
Let us into the libraries. After all, we’re paying for them.
Hosek is a psychology freshman from Austin, Texas.