Long Nights Build Library Use

September 9, 2014

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The idea of an all-nighter might not hold much appeal past a certain age. Many librarians, however, are using all-nighters to build an enthusiastic audience of student users through the Long Night Against Procrastination.

One student at Crozet Library, a branch of Jefferson-Madison (Va.) Regional Library, left a remarkable thank-you note with young adult librarian Allie Haddix about the library’s Exam Cram event for high school students: “Because of the services that you have provided, I will study hard and efficiently, get good grades, get into the best college, and change the world.”

The European University Viadrina in Frankfurt, Germany, created the Long Night Against Procrastination (LNAP) in 2010. Since then, it has spread among university writing centers and, in many cases, libraries worldwide. Other libraries, including school and public libraries, have started holding events that, while not formally connected to LNAP, have similar goals.More than 100 students (20% of the student body) attended the Long Night Against Procrastination hosted by Waldorf College's Hanson Library and the Waldorf Writing Center.

The specifics of these events vary, but the core idea is the same: Students gather in the library to study or work on projects late into the night, while library and writing center staffers offer assistance in research, writing, and proofreading, and sometimes professors volunteer their time to provide assignment-specific aid. Many events add snacks, relaxation events, planned study breaks, giveaways, and other nonacademic activities into the mix.

But even at LNAP and similar events that have those extras, productivity—in a supportive, community atmosphere—is central. At Crozet’s Exam Cram, the library stayed open late exclusively for high school students over seven days. “There was one group using dry-erase markers to write equations on the glass walls, and they had filled the whole wall with equations,” says Haddix. “It looked like they were in college.”

LNAPs get enthusiastic response from students. Perhaps most dramatically, the Long Night at Waldorf College’s Hanson Library (held in partnership with the Waldorf Writing Center) in Forest City, Iowa, attracts 20% of the student body. Since it began in 2013, “every time one of our student ambassadors gave a tour in the library, they’d mention the Long Night as a hallmark event,” says former director (and now head of Hardin Library Services at the University of Iowa) Elizabeth Kiscaden.

These events can serve a valuable outreach function. Waldorf’s staff marketed the event at the college’s field house and brought in many students who hadn’t previously used the library. “It helped to break down library anxiety, getting them in and showing them that it’s a welcoming environment,” Kiscaden says, and now many of those students are return customers.

Meanwhile, at Brandon (Manitoba) University’s Robbins Library, the hours of the Long Night helped the Academic Skills Centre reach a new audience. “The Writing Skills staff who were here were able to help students who couldn’t come in to see them during regular hours,” says university librarian Betty Braaksma.

In some cases, these events have helped libraries build bridges around their campus. For the Feel Good Finals program at Loyola Marymount University’s William H. Hannon Library in Los Angeles, the library worked with the campus recreation department to offer massages in the library and to share the cost of bringing in therapy dogs and meditation programs. Since then, an on-campus pub operated by the recreation department has reached out to the library about sponsoring a trivia night. “I don’t think we’d have been on their radar if we hadn’t built this connection through Feel Good Finals,” says Outreach and Communications Librarian Jamie Hazlitt.

Petaluma (Calif.) High School’s Cookies and Cram event lasts for a few hours after school and includes both librarians and teachers helping students in the days before finals. “It’s amazing to see a teacher sitting at a table helping two or three kids with a question. Then suddenly there will be a group of kids who aren’t necessarily from her classes talking to her informally,” says teacher-librarian Connie Williams. “It’s a really positive experience for kids to know they can come up to any teacher and get their questions answered, and I know the teachers love interacting in that way.” —Greg Langraf is a freelance writer based in Chicago.