April 30, 2010

University surveys students before making more plans for Harper

A late-night café, cozy chairs, and accessible outlets are the kind of details that make Harper Commons a new favorite study spot for hundreds of students each day. The library, which was renovated over the summer and made into a 24-hour study space, is conducting a two-week student survey in the hopes of making the space better suit the needs students better.

According to Harper Commons Director Michael Baltasi, the information from the survey that asks “what attracts [people]? How long do they stay? Is it the same people, or a lot of different people?” will help drive future plans for the space, including “to what extent [it needs] to be renovated.” Changes were made to the space over the summer, including the addition of task lighting and reading chairs, but these changes, according to a press release, are just the first step in a planned $20 million renovation.

The specifics of this renovation will be dependent upon careful analysis of current usage patterns. Currently, the Harper Reading Room is attracting an average of between 70 to 170 students per hour between the peak times of 10:30 a.m. and midnight on weekdays, according to the University. An average of 140 students occupy the Commons as a whole (Reading Room, Stewart Reading Room, USITE, West Tower, and the Café) during those hours.

The numbers were determined based on hourly headcounts taken by the Commons’ student employees.

“I don’t know what expectations were [when the space was reconfigured], but I would imagine that this does definitely exceed them,” Baltasi said.

Harper Café has also increased in popularity over the course of the year. “We see everybody, even professors and advisers,” said Faisal Mukarram, a second-year in the College and an employee of the Café. He explained that the Café has lengthened its hours every quarter in order to accommodate growing student interest; fall quarter, it opened at 2:00 in the afternoon, winter quarter at 11:00 a.m., and this quarter it opens at 9:00 a.m.

“The café has gotten busier as we’ve offered more coffee,” Baltasi joked. On a more serious note, he added, “As they’ve extended their hours into the morning, it’s gotten much more popular. Now you start to see people eating there, gathering there, a lot of great discussions that you might have seen in the back room of Classics Café.”

When asked who was frequenting the Café, he said it was a mixed crowd, from students to “people coming over from the medical school in their scrubs.”