Cal State L.A. students Stephanie Velasquez and Karla Chitay were stymied recently when they headed to the university library to study for a final exam: The facility had closed at 8 p.m. just before they arrived.
But a few feet away, scores of students were bent over laptops and textbooks in a makeshift open air study area. There was a copy machine and a printer. Coffee, free of charge, was brewing as a late evening chill began to descend. Velasquez, 25, and Chitay, 22, found a table.
"We came to the library straight from class and when we found it closed, we were like 'oh no, what are we going to do,'" said Velasquez, who, like Chitay, is a social work major. "We wanted to study together but we live on opposite sides of town and needed a space. This is great."
Since it opened June 1, the so-called "People's Library" has been available until midnight each day. It was organized by a group of students after administrators curtailed regular library hours this year because of state budget cuts.
Organizers contend that reduced access to library resources was affecting students' studies, especially in the run-up to this week's final exams. So they gathered donated chairs and tables and have been using campus electrical hookups for lighting and equipment just outside the university's main library.
"We're studying in resistance," one of the organizers, Laura Tejeda, 19, said this week as she urged passers-by to sign a petition for longer library hours. Tejeda works at the university library'scirculation desk. "We weren't sure if people were going to come out in the cold evenings. But we've had big turnouts every night."
Organizers said Cal State administrators at first threatened to close down the alternative operation and briefly turned off its electricity. Campus spokesman Sean Kearns said students launched the effort without warning and facility officials had initial concerns.
They helped the students address safety issues such as securing electrical cords and there have been no incidents, Kearns said.
The library will hold its last session Thursday as finals week ends.The Los Angeles campus, one of 23 in the Cal State system, is not alone in trimming library hours and making other reductions in the face of a severe financial crisis. The library budget was cut 20% this year from $4.5 million to $3.6 million, forcing tough choices, university librarian Alice Kawakami said.
The library also cut full-time equivalent student assistant positions from 19 to 11 and canceled subscriptions to more than 400 print journals and 10 databases. The decision to close the library at 8 p.m. rather than 10 p.m. came after it was found that fewer students used it after 7 p.m. The library now also closes on Sundays but remains open on Saturdays.
Kawakami noted that most library materials are available online and can be accessed from any location. While technology has somewhat changed the library's function, she said, it still draws many students as a communal space. Its operating hours may be reassessed next year, she said.
"I'm assuming the budget is still going to be pretty dire, but maybe we may want to use [the library] differently if the hours are truly an issue," Kawakami said. "But that will mean cuts to something else."
For now, though, organizers say the alternative library is needed because some students don't have Internet access at home or a quiet place to study.
"A lot of these students have to go home and prepare the family dinner or look after their little brothers and sisters; that's why the library is so important," said Anthony Francoso, a Cal State LA sociology lecturer who helped organize the alternative library. "It gives them the ability to sit and focus."