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April 20, 2017

Assault reveals faults in W.E.B. Du Bois Library

It seems that everything at the University of Massachusetts has its bright spots and its many downsides. The W.E.B. DuBois Library is no exception.

The tallest library in the United States boasts computers and studying spaces galore, but is not without its fair share of problems. In light of the recent attack on a woman on the library’s 19th floor, these issues have surged to the forefront and for good reason. UMass’ library stands as a beacon of learning, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

As anyone who has been to the library to do some studying in the stacks on the higher floors can attest, it gets scary up there, especially at night.

Around finals time, there are hundreds of students bustling around the library trying to get last minute work done, but throughout the rest of the year, these floors can be abandoned. The floors with the bathrooms are especially empty as they are the floors with the tiny study rooms and other offices.

Due to the lack of police and library patrols and the emptiness of these higher floors, it is not surprising that an attack occurred there. What is surprising to me is that I have been at UMass for four years and have not heard of any problems before this.

The attack highlights a few problems. First, there is no way to prevent random members of the public – if the attacker was not a student at one of the Five Colleges – to roam the library freely with bad intentions. Half the battle is the fact the library is open to the public and UMass cannot unilaterally refuse entry to members of the public.

Another problem is the lack of patrols by library staff or even UMass police. While I have seen library staff conducting walks around the library, it does not seem to be a routine or even common occurrence. The UMass Police’s failure to establish public safety in perhaps the busiest building on campus is a stunning indictment of what the police seem to view their responsibilities as at UMass. They are always more intent on stopping people from going 27 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour speed zone or preventing 20 year olds from drinking beer.

As a senior and as a person who spends considerable time in the library – ask anyone who knows me – I have never seen police officers just taking a walk around the library to announce their presence. It is ironic that the UMass Police website shows pictures of cops talking amicably with students when everyone I know lives in fear of the police.

According to the UMPD website, their mission is to “serve our community by providing a safe environment in which to live, learn and grow.” It would be nice if the police lived up to this instead of perfecting their performance as the road rules Gestapo.

It is too bad that it took an attack for us to realize the danger of an unpatrolled library, but it is just as bad that this attack has cast the library in such a bad light because it is one of the best features of UMass.

Though there are basic problems with the library that cannot be fixed, there are incredible benefits. One glaring issue cannot be helped, however: The library’s design is foolish, because tall libraries make no sense. It is and should be the tallest library in the United States, and the world for that matter.

If writing a paper on the country of Ireland for example, a book on Michael Collins, go to floor 15, a James Joyce novel, go to floor 11, a book on politics and the IRA, go to 8. While the library cannot make the Dewey Decimal System easier to understand, the fact that it is more than 20 small floors means that finding necessary books might include running from floor to floor. Libraries should be expansive and broad, not compact and tall.

Still, there is more to be proud about than to nitpick. Since I have been here, the library has expanded wireless access from just the first few floors to the entire building. More computers have been added. The computer labs are more useful and there are plenty of printers and copiers. The staplers inside the front door and downstairs have proven critical time and time again. And the list could go on and on.

There is plenty to rave about, but still just as much to be done. The library staff and UMass administration needs to work with UMass Police to establish a presence to make sure the tragedy of Nov. 3 does not happen again. In fact, the police would benefit from a more visible role and a role that puts public safety first and foremost over the minute traffic violations that give the campus cops glee.

The library needs to continue replacing its unused floors with computer labs. It seems the study rooms are never used. A future construction project might be to convert them to computer labs. The UMass library surely has much going for it, but recent events have shown a bright light on its shortcomings.

Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at

2 Responses to “Assault reveals faults in W.E.B. Du Bois Library”
  1. anonymous says:

    The study rooms ARE used, a lot more than you might think, and there re a lot more people behind the closed doors of those rooms than you might think.

    I am behind a closed door not that far from a women’s bathroom on an upper floor and if I heard someone screaming down the hall, I would make the 911 call. It might be more “guys, I am trying to understand the latest gobblygook that the US Dept of Education has put into the Federal Register and would you please send someone up here to shut her up”, but I would still make the call. Lot of other folks would too.

    Now if it was a voice I recognized, someone whom I knew, I probably would do quite a bit more and that, ladies, is why the EWC and RAD and other folks won’t tell you — there is an inherent benefit of having male friends. There is an inherent benefit of having male friends (not just your boyfriend) who will come flying through that bathroom door if you scream for help – will do it knowing that you will explain to Lisa Kidwell why they did it and why they were in the women’s bathroom when the police arrived.

    It would take hiring 104 new officers to have a cop on every floor 24/7 and that is not going to happen. Nor do we really want it, look at the fuss of cops in the dorms (where they are needed far more) and how well that worked out.

    No, community means that you look out for your friends and your friends look out for you. It may be offensive to radical feminist theory, but much as no man is an island, no woman is one either. And forget rape, what if you slip on the wet floor and break your leg/hip/whatever at 11 PM in the bathroom on the 22nd floor – do you really want to be laying there in great pain for 10-12 hours until the janitor finds you, or would you prefer to be a little bit less independent and have friends who notice that you are missing and make a fuss about you, and come looking for you?

    And the same guy who you looked out for last weekend when you told him that throwing a beer bottle at the police was a really bad idea is the same guy whom your roommate can ask to come help look for you now. Another thing that the radical feminists will never tell you…

  2. annonymous says:

    The news of the assault definitely is scary, especially to female students like myself. Wanting to take advantage of the free late-night UMass escort service last week, I went to the security desk across from the Procrastination Station. When I asked about the service, the clerk seemed confused and started to look through his messy contact books for the escort number. I said, “Oh, I have the number; I just thought that maybe someone would be on-hand.” The point is, why isn’t there at least one escort at the library?

    I proceeded to call the number and reached an answering machine. The message said that if I have an emergency, to call 911. If I wanted to use the escort service, to call UMPD’s line. Again another hurdle.

    I finally got through and spoke with a woman at the station who seemed annoyed by my request to be accompanied on my walk from the library to a dark parking lot on campus. Regardless, my request was processed and I was told to wait in front of the library for an officer. Twenty minutes of waiting outside by myself later, a UMPD patrolman arrived in his cruiser. Even he seemed confused at my request for an escort. But I had heard about and read about this great service beginning from my first tour of campus Junior year of high school!

    It is important that this service be built-up and ADVERTISED more to the students and especially women of campus. ***The phone number to the UMass Escort Service is 413-545-2123.***

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