Malfunctioning turnstiles lead to a less secure Reg

By Hana Yoo

It’s a familiar routine for anyone who frequents the Regenstein Library: fishing out a University ID, swiping it, and walking through a turnstile to the sound of a click as the light on the turnstile changes from red to green. Over the last few months, however, a host of mechanical problems has plagued the turnstiles, altering this routine. Library users are obliged to show their ID to the attendant on duty, or in the case of this past week, may simply walk through the nonfunctioning turnstiles.

According to James Vaughan, assistant director for access and facilities at the Regenstein, the turnstiles began malfunctioning “sometime last week.” The library has ordered replacement parts for the 10-year-old turnstiles, which repairmen are scheduled to install Friday.

“They’ve had a long life, and like anything, they are in need of replacement,” Vaughan said.

“We’re having people swipe their cards,” said Benjamin Murphy, supervisor of identification and privileges at the Regenstein. “I wouldn’t say right now that there are security concerns. Everyone has to have a valid ID. Only when people are working on the turnstiles do we have to prop them open.”

There remains the concern that visitors may enter the library without using an ID at all, especially after the report of a stalker earlier this week. Megan Tormey, a third-year in the College, has noticed a problem with the turnstiles since last quarter. “It seems like they’re always fixing the turnstiles. I know last quarter for the first five weeks you could just walk through,” Tormey said. While she said this is sometimes convenient, she expressed unease at the idea that anyone could enter the library.

Carl Streed, a second-year in the College, is also well aware of the problem with the turnstiles. He said that while he always has his student ID ready in case he can’t get through automatically, “I don’t have to use my card anymore. I just walk right through.”

Such comments might not sit well with Milton Watkins, who guards the front desk. “After 9/11 you have to be very particular. You want to know who’s coming in, who’s going out,” he said.

Murphy said that in general, turnstile repairs have been needed more frequently of late. For instance, smoke was coming out of the turnstiles last Tuesday.

“We are babysitting [the turnstiles] as much as possible,” Murphy said. “[At the same time,] we’re trying to make access easy for people, especially when we have heavy traffic in the first couple weeks of school.”

According to Vaughan, the Regenstein uses the turnstiles not only as a security measure but also to collect data on who is using the library. A software program captures how many valid entries and invalid attempts there were into the library each day, as well as what type of ID—such as College, the GSB, the Divinity School, and the Oriental Institute, among others—each user has.

“The data helps us understand who is using the physical library,” Vaughan said. “We can look at what categories of people are using the physical building and try to think about which services they wish physically.”

In October of 2003, the library requested funding for new turnstiles from the provost and the University Budget Office, which it has since received. Vaughan said the library plans to replace the rotary-arm turnstiles it has now with barrier-panel optical turnstiles.

Optical turnstiles have plexiglass barriers blocking the entrance that open when a user scans his or her ID. Vaughan said that he expects them to be more intuitive and comfortable than the current turnstiles, which force users “to scan their IDs to the left, which isn’t intuitive, and [to] turn in an awkward way” if they have backpacks.

“We’re hoping to get [turnstiles] more like what the buildings downtown have in their lobbies, as opposed to the CTA,” Murphy said. We still haven’t received bids back from the different vendors, but in a couple weeks, we can move forward and see what we actually can do.”

Vaughan said that the new turnstiles should be fully operational by the end of summer. Facilities Manager of the Regenstein John Pitcher said that the library was replacing the turnstiles over the summer for two reasons. “It would be awkward to try to change the system in the middle of the school year, in part because of the traffic… and partly because we have to accustom ourselves to using a new system,” Pitcher said. “‘It’s best [to replace them] when the number of people being inconvenienced by our being beginners is minimal.” In addition, the library is still waiting for the bids to come through before deciding on which vendor to choose for the new turnstiles.

“The hope is that we’ll have something over the summer, something that will make people forget our current problems with the turnstiles,” Vaughan said. “Unfortunately, right now we’re mired in the present, and I’m anxious for us to get to the future.”