Locked In or Locked Out: The Library Door Closure

By Alex G. ’21

On the first day back from winter break, countless confused students could be seen standing outside of the second-floor entrance to the library. They peered at a new sign on the closed door that read “STOP!  Not an Entrance.”  

The second-floor entrance to the library allows for easy access for hurried Winsor students to the study spaces and extensive materials that the Winsor library has to offer. However, this accessible entrance wasn’t always available. Ms. Alice Stern, Director of the Virginia Wing Library, relayed that about six years ago the library staff opened the second-floor door, following a request from Collect to save students from having to enter through the first-floor entrance. Opening the door reduced traffic through the first-floor entrance and made it easier for upper schoolers, who most often have classes on the second and third floor. Though Winsor students became accustomed to the second entrance, Ms. Stern said that it is not typical of libraries to have two entrances. The second entrance was a privilege that Winsor students enjoyed because of the trust that library staff had in the students to take care of the books.

“Walking books,” as Ms. Stern calls them, have always been an issue for the Winsor library, but over the past year or so the library staff has observed an increase in missing books.  Though Ms. Stern cannot quantify how many books have gone missing in the past year, because the only way to know if a book is missing is to try and take it out, she states that “it became the norm” for some students to take books from the library without checking them out. Ms. Stern believes that missing books are a product of “carelessness.” “I don’t call it outright theft… People aren’t taking books to sell them on eBay.”  However, regardless of the student intentions, the library has had to replace many books that have gone missing. Ms. Stern explains that “it takes money away from the collection when we have to buy them to replace” books that “walked.” The money could be spent ordering new books for the library or purchasing a book needed for a student’s research project rather than replacing books the library already owned.  

In many cases, missing books are returned months after they were replaced. In that case, the library has most likely already spent money on a new book and has less shelf space to hold the second copy. At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, Ms. Stern found stacks of missing library books in classrooms throughout the school. The negligence of students not checking out their books and, thus, not being held accountable for returning them cost the library unneeded expenses. Thus, the library staff found it necessary to make a change.  They met to discuss possible ways to deter students from carelessly or accidentally taking books from the library.

By the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, the department had decided on closing the second-floor door in order to force students to pass the checkout desk on the first floor when leaving the library. However, the alarm system for the door could not be installed at that time, so Ms. Stern sent an email to the student body in hopes that the threat of closing the second-floor door would encourage students to be more responsible about checking out books. Ms. Stern warned, “Library materials must always be checked out, even if you are only using them for the period in a classroom.  If this continues to be an issue, we will stop allowing access to and from the library on the second floor. It’s up to you.” Despite her warning, the situation did not improve in the first semester of this school year, so the alarm system was installed over winter break, and the door is now permanently closed.

Despite Ms. Stern’s previous emails, many students are still asking “what was the issue?” with the door being open.  Even when provided with the reason, many students believe that closing the second-floor door is more of an inconvenience to the student body than a help to the library budget.  One anonymous student from the class of 2021 stated, “at a school where research is such an influential part of our learning experience, having to waste time to go up and down every time I want to read a page or so from a book is a big inconvenience.”  Mr. Rudy Sirochman relayed that it is a “little bit” of an inconvenience to them, “I have to go down, up, down, up,” but that the closed door also allows for a quieter third floor. The teacher stated that “I would think there would be a compromise.” One idea for a compromise that library staff have considered is adding book detectors to the second floor entrance, similar to those in public libraries.  However, Ms. Stern states, “That is a direction I hope we never have to go in” as it is costly and not reflective of our “community of trust.” Therefore, until the Winsor student body can gain back the trust of the library staff and ensure that books will not continue to “walk,” the second floor door will remain locked.