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Give a (quiet) cheer for library’s expanded capacity and hours

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Not many university libraries inspire their own student cheering squad. But Northeastern Library, which has been redesigned to fit more students and returned to a 24-hour schedule this semester, isn’t most libraries.

“At one of the first Beanpot championship games that I went to, our student section was actually chanting at one point, ‘That’s all right. That’s okay, our library’s open 24 hours a day,’” says Dan Cohen, dean of libraries and vice provost for information collaboration at Northeastern. “I remember sitting there and I was like, ‘Are they really saying that?’ It was pretty great. And it is unusual.”

Dan Cohen, Dean of Libraries and Vice Provost for Information Collaboration. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

The library, which is also called Snell Library and is located on Northeastern’s Boston campus, limited its hours of operation and capacity last year as a health precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The building, which has four floors offering a range of study desks, group tables and private collaboration rooms, had 2 million visitors per year before COVID-19 safety measures went into effect in 2020. Cohen expects visits to return to those levels or even exceed them as students, faculty, and staff return to campus this year.

“I was astonished when I came here, because I’ve been in a lot of libraries in my career, and this is by far the most used and loved library I’ve ever been in,” says Cohen. “We really enjoy how we’re situated in the center of campus, and we view ourselves as sort of the connective tissue of the campus. People can stop into the building, study for an hour, and head off to class.”

The building has been redesigned to accommodate a total of 3,000 students this semester, says Cohen, an expansion from the 2,000-person limit before the pandemic. Distancing precautions last year meant that only 750 people could be in the building.

“Effectively we have quadrupled our seating between June and September,” says Cohen. “The whole idea is that for those who need a quiet corner we want to provide that, for those who want a table or a room for eight, we have that, too. We’re serving all kinds of uses, and those uses change during the day.”

Photos by Alyssa Stone, Matthew Modoono and Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

The library will be fully staffed, allowing for in-person consultations along with remote consultations via email and text. The second-floor recording studio that had been temporarily closed during the pandemic will reopen. Printed books, which were removed last year to create more space, will eventually return following a basement renovation, says Cohen.

Some COVID-19 precautions will remain in place for student safety. The library will close once a week every Saturday from 9 p.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday so staff can clean the building. Many of the little-used print books won’t be coming back.

“The books are still in the annex, but we do rapid shipping and there’s a pickup area where students and faculty can get the books. We’ve also greatly expanded our ebook collection, which of course is accessible anywhere, anytime,” says Cohen.

A packed line of students flowed in and out of the library Wednesday afternoon, stopping to grab a seat and study, decompress or figure out how to get to their next class.

“I just like that any time you want to you can go and use the library’s resources or sit down and find a quiet space,” says Katerina Gusarova, a second-year behavioral neuroscience major. The campus was much quieter last year, she says, but space was limited.

“This is crazy. I have never seen this many people here,” says Gusarova, “But yeah, 24-hour access means not everybody will be crowded into the same small space.”

The library continues to add to its digital collection, with access to 1.5 million ebooks, 160,000 electronic journals, and nearly 300,000 streaming audio and video resources.

And while Cohen is thrilled to be back in person, he said the changes made during COVID-19 allowed the library to better accommodate its global campus.

“We’ve learned a lot about helping students and faculty by multiple means. We had to rapidly expand our remote services, but it’s improved our ability to serve the community wherever and whenever,” says Cohen.

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