UPDATED: 1:50 a.m.
Students are protesting to restore 24/5 hours by sitting outside the USF Library.
About 10-12 protestors are setting up shop outside the exit. They come equipped with a blanket, a water cooler, power strips and study materials.
University Police has sent an officer over to keep an eye on the area. The officer approaches the group and begins asking them questions.
“So what’s the game plan?” he asks the group.
Melissa Garzon, a sophomore majoring in sociology, is the ring leader to for this protest, and explains to the officer what their cause is and why they’re choosing to sit outside all night.
The officer seems more intrigued.
“So it’s Student Government (SG) who doesn’t want to fund the hours?” he asked.
Student Body President William Warmke met with Provost Ralph Wilcox and library officials this afternoon to discuss the options available to them in funding the library’s extended hours.
“Nothing tangible came from the meeting,” Warmke said.
The meeting was called after Warmke requested to meet with the Provost to discuss funding options. The Library hours were cut from its 24/5 operational hours as the university implemented spending reductions and no longer had the funds to keep up the costs. Wilcox had said the hours, initially proposed by SG, were intended to be funded by SG, but SG never funded the initiative.
A proposal was brought to SG this spring to allocate partial funding for extended Library hours from SG’s $14.1 million Activity and Service (A&S) fees budget, something each student pays into.
Warmke said SG didn’t think student fees should pay for a service that is at the core of academics, something he said he felt tuition should already cover.
The survey SG conducted to gauge opinion has been taken by more than 1,700 students, Warmke said. More than 95 percent of survey takers said they felt the library’s extended hours was an essential part to student success.
The fourth question on the survey asked students if they agreed with the university cutting the library’s hours, and placing their tuition dollars into a reserve account to be used for future spending.
Warmke said 90 percent of survey takers did not agree.
There’s about 25 people on the first floor, some playing on computers, others getting in some last minute studying. It’s the first week of classes, so not that many people have homework at this point of the semester.
Like clockwork, the loud speaker begins ushering students out of the library.
“Attention library patrons. The USF Library is now closed. Please collect your belongings and proceed to the first floor main entrance. Thank you.”
Not many students get up, but some get annoyed with the repetitive reminder to leave and pack up their things. The baristas in Starbucks shuffle chairs around as they clean up the coffee shop. A University Police (UP) officer is walking around the lobby and speaks with a library official.
“Thanks for coming by to help us,” the official tells him. “We really appreciate it.”
A library official scans the first floor as UP stands guard. Everyone’s starting to give up on blocking out the loud speaker’s requests, and they make their way toward the exit.
About eight people remain in the library.
Outside the library, about 75 people are sitting with blankets and bottles of water. A photographer walks around snapping photos of students, who are discussing what brought them all here in the first place – the library’s closure in two minutes.
“They’re spending money on flavored condoms, but they can’t afford to keep the library open?” one student casually asks his friends.
University Police officers Sgt. Martin King and Cpt. Mike Klingebiel approach the crowd.
“We’re going to have an officer come by every hour to check on things,” King said. “As long as there aren’t any problems, you guys are free to stay. You have my phone number in case you need anything.”
Students thank King and continue their conversations.
Klingebiel has put King, the shift commander, in charge of the protest for the evening.
“The overall objective is to allow the individuals to express themselves, in a safe manner, which does not disrupt or occupy the structure which is closed,” Klingebiel said. “That’s basically it. They can get their point across, the university is sensitive to this issue, and I know the students and the university are working together to come to some sort of resolution.”
The goal of the night, Klingebiel said, is to allow students to use the outside space surrounding the library peacefully.
“So you guys are protesting higher pay raises for police?” King asked students.
“I’ve heard a rumor that people think at 1 a.m. people are going to be arrested for trespassing,” he said. “I wanted to let you guys know that you’re safe … as long as you guys keep doing what you’re doing university police supports free speech… We just don’t want to see anything like destruction.”
King said the library staff told him students are free to use the electrical outlets attached to the library. Students applaud King as he wishes them good luck and walks back toward his squad car.
A student walks around asking others if they would like free water. A plethora of conversations take place outside the building. Some students sound determined to make change happen.
“The news will be here at 4 a.m., and I really encourage you to stick around,” a student says to the crowd. “If you need to nap, go back to your dorms or your cars or whatever, and come back at 4. They’re going to need people to interview.”
Library Services Manager Scott Ryan took a break from helping close the Library for the night to take a look out front.
“I just want to get a picture of this real quick,” he said as he pulled out his smartphone.
Library staff were made aware of the plans for a protest through Facebook, and called UP to ensure the site remained safe throughout the night. Ryan said he is here to make sure the library closed without problem, and said he was sure that it would be a peaceful protest.
The computers and lights in the library stay on throughout the night despite the building’s closure, Ryan said.
“As far as I’m aware, the only additional cost to keeping the library open (extended hours) is paying the staff,” he said.
Ryan said he is supportive of the student’s cause, and hopes the extended hours are eventually restored.
“Our stats show that we get hundreds of students every night,” Ryan said. “I definitely think we should be funding something like this, the overnight hours, I mean. The students feel that way too. That’s why they’re out here.”
Danny Brookes, a sophomore majoring in environmental science and policy, takes out a set of glow in the dark juggling balls and puts on a show for his friends. He said he is vice president of Objects in Motion, a club at USF, and is at the protest to support his friends, who use the library late at night regularly.
“For me personally, I didn’t use the library much last year, that’s just me,” he said. “I know a lot my friends were in the library until late in the morning, and so it’s important to them.”
Brookes said he isn’t sure how long he plans to stay out here, due to an 8:30 a.m. class and a plan to drive the Gainesville the next day.
“I could see where if I needed to print something out and forgot about it, so it would be convenient if the library was open,” Brookes said. “I can see why (my friends) are so passionate about seeing the library open longer, but I’m really just here to support friends.”
The crowd has dwindled a little bit. About 50 students remain outside. Brookes continues to juggle, and teaches another student some tricks, as others continue their conversations and studying.
“You have to keep focus without looking at any specific one,” Brookes tells the other student.
Warmke walks around greeting students and answering questions they have about why the hours were cut.
Warmke said he is here to support the protest, and is in full support of restoring the library hours.
“As an individual, I am here to endorse and support the students,” Warmke said.
Coming out to the Library and engaging with students who use the library late at night has been enlightening, he said. Having used the library during extended hours himself, Warmke said he finds it important that students make sure they have their voices heard.
“I hear very different perspectives, different stories, but at the end of the day, each student has their own story,” he said. “They may be here working a job, or because they have night classes or they’re supporting a family – I think it is important to hear from all the students and to recognize the need that we need 24/5 hours at the library, that they’ve provided the last four years and have suddenly cut. I think they should find the money.”
While Warmke said his meeting with the Provost wasn’t “necessarily productive,” he said it was informative.
“One thing the Provost did commit to is having the hours extended again during midterms and finals week,” Warmke said. “That was a major concern that we were worried about, at least until some sort of agreement has been reached.”
McKenzie Step, a sophomore majoring in English, sits outside the Library reading a textbook for her New Media class. She said she has already made it through four chapters of the text during her time outside the library.
“The only difference has been the lack of outlets and air conditioning,” Step said. “But it’s been pretty much the same.”
Being outside with other students in support of the same cause has been encouraging, Step said.
“I live here,” Step said. “I do all of my studying here. I live in an apartment with seven other people, so I need to concentrate here and I just feel like students paying so much in tuition, and us being a priority of the school, focusing on our grades and our success… so I think the library is very vital.”
Cell phones and laptop batteries are beginning to lose power as students have been outside for more than two hours. As they search for power outlets that the Library has offered them during their protest, students are realizing the only ones available in the area are behind vending machines and near the designated smoking area on the side of the building.
“The library used to be open 24/5,” Larry Roop, a freshman on the pre-nursing track said to Garzon and Step. “Why would they need power outlets outside?”
“Look at this,” Step said as she points the the inside of the building. “The lights are still on inside.”