Scarcity of study spaces raises the stakes in semester wind-down
Students working in the Retriever Learning Center. The RLC is often full, making it difficult to find a seat. Photo by Winston Zhou.

Scarcity of study spaces raises the stakes in semester wind-down

As another semester comes to an end, the flurry of final exams and lengthy term papers bring in floods of students looking to catch up on their work anywhere they can. In theory, UMBC is well-equipped for the end-of-year studious throngs. With a seven-floor library, the 24-hour Retriever Learning Center, study spaces in academic buildings and The Commons, the possibilities seem endless. The reality, however, is quite different.

Every semester, students desperate for a quiet, clean place to study are faced with several issues. Lack of availability, substandard conditions and the improper use of available spaces make finding a study spot especially difficult.

“Sometimes there are people sleeping in the [library] study rooms, and you can’t go in there. So what do you do, where do you go?” asked Pooja Chan, a junior biology major, “In the RLC, there is always a bunch of people just watching TV, basketball games …”

Alyssa Lagasca, another junior biology major, agreed. “Especially with the ‘group study rooms’,” Lagasca said, “There is usually only one person there, and a lot of the time they are not even doing work, they are playing games, sleeping … sometimes it can get awkward. I’m desperate to find a study space and I’ll knock and come in like ‘can I study here?’”

The conditions and maintenance of study spaces, particularly in the library study rooms and the RLC, are also a deterrent for many students. There are limited or unavailable materials, such as markers and chalk. Many tables, computers and locks are broken in private rooms. Even the cleanliness of certain spaces is a sore spot for students with limited options.

“The RLC is a mess, like half the tables are broken … . It is always super dirty, and there are whiteboards there, but never any markers or erasers or anything like that. You have to bring your own,” said Chan.

Chan recalled a personal account of a particular room “where the lock was broken, so [she] told the lady and she just said to ‘jiggle it a little bit.’ [Chan] went in and there was just the worst smell ever … . The ceiling had holes up top, the tile was broken … . [She didn’t] think it was safe in general.”

“The smell of the study rooms and in the RLC, and the sanitation … . I don’t think they’re sanitized all that much, and I have never seen anyone actually clean the RLC – I know it’s 24-hours, but come on,” added Lagasca.

Even The Commons, a building where many students gather to study, now has limited space because of construction. “We used to go to the third-floor conference rooms in The Commons because they were always empty – but those are locked now, you have to reserve it in advance to get there,” said Chan and Lagasca.

For years, the UMBC community has debated opening the library for 24 hours as a way to lessen the overcrowding of the RLC, particularly during exam weeks. While the idea has merit, as there are several universities with 24-hour libraries, there is no actual demand at UMBC that would justify the cost of staffing the entire library 24/7.

There are some planned study spaces in new campus construction projects, such as the Event Center, which will feature an Academic Achievement Center. Nevertheless, it is not clear if that space will be open to all students, or what its operating hours will be.

Another way to remedy this issue would be to open new study spaces around campus, specifically late-night or other 24-hour study spaces. Many students already walk into buildings before closing time to stay the night; others make use of empty classrooms. Perhaps designated study spaces that remain open beyond normal operating hours could be opened in academic buildings. Additionally, it would be much cheaper to maintain and operate study spaces in existing areas than building a “new” RLC or opening one or more floors of the library.

Creating newly designated study spaces is not a complicated, nor an expensive, endeavor. There are a few things students at “An Honors University in Maryland” should not have to worry about – adequate locations for study are one of them.