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

By Nick Milano

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 [email protected]