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    • The new library policy causes controversy among students.

    • Senior Class President Burton Lyng-Olsen

    • Students pose with signs outside of library

"Free the Library!": Students Rally Against New Silent Policy

Sophie Sonnenfeld '21 Op-Ed Editor, Vivian Wang '23
"There would be 50 to 60 kids in this space and kids all over the floor” was how Head Librarian Faye Prendergast described the Calarco upper library on a typical day.
On Tuesday, January 21, Prendergast and the Head Advisors sent an email notice of the new library policy to all Hopkins students at the start of the second semester. It stated that in addition to the silent lower library, the upper library too would remain silent during the lunch wave period of 11:30 am to 1:30 pm. The email also alerted students that study rooms would be unavailable for use, with the exceptions of peer tutors and extra help with teachers.

Prendergast said the policy change was not caused by one particular incident but by “a recurring, ongoing, chronic problem” she observed for years. “It became crazy with us shouting and throwing kids out.” The majority of students have free periods during the middle part of the day, which results in many coming to the library to socialize and work. Prendergast stated “There are too many kids in this space. Imagine 60 people trying to whisper- it starts out well and it doesn’t end there.”

Dean of Students and Head Adviser of the Class of 2023 Lars Jorgensen said, “[The complicated situation] is why we felt a moderate compromise would be those two hours we could keep silent and then it’s just easier to enforce, and we’ve tried to make [Heath] more available and conducive to collaborative work too.”

Starting last year, additional faculty members were assigned proctoring duties during the first and second lunch waves to assist the librarians in keeping the library quiet. In late fall of this year, the librarians and grade Head Advisors brought up the idea of a policy change as a resolution. Historically, the entire library has remained silent during the review week before exams each term. Prendergast said, “We discussed maybe it was time to try [the new policy] after experiencing the silence in review week.” With careful consideration and consultation between the library faculty and Head Advisors, the change was put into action. Jorgensen said there were “multiple conversa-
tions” between him and Prendergast, as well as conversations with Prendergast and all the Head Advisors.

These changes were not well received by most students and the new policy faced pushback from the start. The day the policy changes were announced, a group of students calling themselves the Students Against Silent Libraries (SASL) created a petition that Gunnar DeSantis '20 posted on the library entrance door. Within days, the petition gained nearly 100 signatures.
On January 23, over 50 students gathered on the patio outside the library to protest the new policy. They held up signs and printed copies of a bill, "An Act to Repeal the Upper Library Protocol 2020," written by Student Council President Katherine Takoudes '20 and Senior Class President Burton Lyng-Olsen '20, the senior leaders of SASL. The bill lists grievances with the new policy and demands that the library al- low quiet conversation in the upper library and access to study rooms during lunch hours. SASL concluded the bill saying, “Any future acts to change protocol in student spaces shall be first communicated to the Student Council (StuCo) for respectful discussion.”

To end the protest, Takoudes went inside to speak with Prendergast and promised to represent the student protesters at an official meeting with Prendergast and Jorgensen.

Takoudes commented, “There are three facets of this new policy that I don’t agree with: first, that no students were consulted directly about this new proposal before it was enacted. Second, by silencing the collaborative level of the library, it appears as if Hopkins is suggesting that only silent learning and studying are effective. And third, in enacting this new protocol, no alternative collaborative study spaces were given to the student body—we only had one taken away.”

A survey put out by The Razor on President’s Day revealed that, in fact, a majority of the student body is not in favor of the new policy. In that poll, 63.2% of the 367 responses said they don’t like the new policy, 28.1% said they are impartial, while 8.2% said they like the new policy. Before the policy, 35.6% of respondents spent over 5 hours in the library a week. After the policy change, the percentage of people spending over 5 hours per week dropped to 15.7%.

Counter to Takoudes and other students, Prendergast said, “I can see how students feel they need to be consulted, but in this case, I don’t think it’s a democracy. Sometimes people make a decision and we don’t see all of the parameters that they may see.” Prendergast acknowledged that she did not expect such student backlash, but responded by saying, “I hope they take this same level of engagement to something like climate change and ...other pressing problems. I [have] no problem with kids expressing themselves.”

While some students created petitions and made posters, other, less vocal students stand in support of the new policy. Prendergast said, “I have gotten written notes from students that say ‘thank you.’ What about those students? They deserve consideration too.” After the protest, one group of anonymous students collected signatures in support of the library policy and hung it up directly next to the SASL petition. Over the course of several days, the petition was taped up and torn down three times. After allowing the SASL petition to hang for about two and a half weeks, Prendergast took down the signed petition papers covering the library doors.

Prendergast acknowledged the “perception of unfairness” students felt when getting kicked out of the library: “What is considered quiet to one person cannot be considered the same to someone else. And so there was this perception that the librarians were not treating the kids the same.” According to Prendergast, since the change, no one has faced disciplinary action from a Head Advisor. Along with fairness, students at the protest also spoke about the importance of collaborative work. Lewis suggested, “Different environments work for different people. If you feel you operate best in a silent environment, you can go downstairs, but if you need a cooperative, collaborative space, you go up here.” Prendergast agreed saying,“engaging in conversation about their work and projects is very helpful for learning.” However, she noted that the behavior in the library often got too out of hand.

Student protestors also spoke about the difficulty of finding alternative spaces to socialize once the new policy was instituted. Just one day after the policy was instituted, Alexis Chang ’21 predicted, “Heath will be overflowing.” In fact, The Razor survey indicated that besides the library, during lunch waves from 11:30-1:30, 39.3% of students use Upper Heath while roughly 45% of students crowd hallways in Malone and the Athletic Center, or search for empty classrooms. Jorgensen said he thinks Heath is spacious enough, “I never see people not having room, as a matter of fact, I think it’s underutilized. We’ve actually been trying to work with the Student Council on how to make [Heath] a more welcoming environment where people can get more work done.”

About a week after the policy change, Katherine Takoudes gave a tour through Upper Heath, but she said it was so noisy and overcrowded with displaced students that she couldn’t hear herself talking. Jorgensen said he actually doesn’t mind the noise, “It makes me smile to see people out here. I think in such an academically focused area where [students] work really hard, it is important to have a space to let go in a respectful way and collaborate with your peers and friends and as long as people are neat and their language is respectful, we’re pretty tolerant.”

After the protest, Wich said, “I’m happy if the result of this is that we do get together and try to figure out how to make Upper Heath a more welcoming space to more people without becoming overcrowded. The student center becomes a student center, [while] the library becomes a learning center and collaborative space.”

On January 28, Takoudes met with Lyng-Olsen, Jorgensen, and Prendergast, as promised at the protest. “The meeting made it very clear that the decision and protocol was not the result of one grade or one loud day in the library,” Takoudes said. Takoudes’ aim was for the library to revert back to quiet conversation and collaborative work in the upper library during lunch. However, students have suggested smaller changes including adjusting the times of the silence so that students with E and F block free have access to a collaborative study space, or posting a list of classrooms available for students to use for collaborative work between 11:30 and 1:30. Jorgensen said he also would like to have a more formal way to get student feedback, perhaps similar to the “Town Hall” type meetings he organized back in December to collect student input on the overall student experience at Hopkins. “This is a space for adults and students together and we want to hear everybody’s voices.”

Most seem to agree that the issue of limited space for students to go during free time extends beyond the library. Prendergast concluded that the pressure for spaces “has nothing to do with the library. Some of the things [students] want involve more of the school. If you need more spaces to be collaborative, and [the library] can’t be the space, then how does the school respond?”
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