Academic Libraries Become All the Rave

Academic Libraries Become All the Rave

University students headed to their campus libraries en masse the week before exams at the end of April, but not just to study: At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the College of Charleston, South Carolina, and the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, students used blogs, Facebook, text messaging, and Twitter to coordinate “impromptu” flash raves.

The April 23 event at UTC went awry, prompting the intervention of Chattanooga police officers, who attempted to restrain the crowd, used pepper spray, and arrested five students. Accounts of the incident vary, but UTC spokesman Chuck Cantrell said in a news release that about 1,000 students gathered at around 11 p.m. outside the Lupton Library. UTC’s The Loop blog puts the number much lower, at several hundred. According to Cantrell’s report, students were shouting “Let us in!” and “Take the library!” A YouTube video shows students jumping off of the building’s roof to crowd-surf. Some students threw items at the police, according to Cantrell’s report, and police sprayed mace above the heads of students to disperse the crowd. After the crowd had left, the library remained closed for about 20 minutes.

Among those arrested was 18-year-old Nicholas Rush, who, police say, hit an officer in the face with a water bottle. Student Government President Tyler Forrest applauded the students’ school spirit, saying in a written statement, “I am glad to see such a large number of students gather together for a show of spirit.” He also characterized the police officers’ response as appropriate.

UTC Chancellor Roger Brown told the April 25 Chattanooga Times Free Press, “We are going to try to do an earlier and quicker response when we start to see text messaging or social network messaging. I am not certain we can change one of these events on the spur of the moment, but we would certainly like the opportunity to try.”

Similar spring raves at UNC-CH, University of Kentucky, and the College of Charleston ended on relatively positive notes. On April 29, students packed the UK main library, gathering outside first at 8:55 p.m., and then storming the library.

“It was probably the most fun thing I’ve ever done on campus. It was unbelievable,” Will Stafford, a 20-year-old sophomore, told the Lexington Herald-Ledger. “We were really just dancing like crazy for 15 minutes and then the cops came in.” CBS-TV affiliate WKYT reported April 29 that students left in an orderly fashion after someone sounded the fire alarm.

The College of Charleston in South Carolina also hosted a rave in their library’s rotunda April 30, a follow-up to a flash-mob dance party December 11, 2008. Two days earlier, students at UNC-CH had swarmed the Undergraduate Library that may have been the first such event inside an academic library; UTC senior Jenny Adkins told the April 25 Free Press that the UNC-CH rave was the inspiration for her classmates to storm their campus library.

The Chapel Hill student body also seems to have catalyzed Clemons Library partyers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville; the caption of a December 12 YouTube video states that the midnight rave in Charlottesville was a “video response” to the December 9 flash mob in Chapel Hill. Students tired of cramming for finals at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, followed suit at the Bailey Library December 20.

Building on their December fame, UNC-CH students held a rave April 30 at the larger Davis Library to accommodate a bigger crowd; the Facebook invitation page had some 2,900 confirmed attendees. Library staff caught wind of the event through the social networking site, and while they did not sanction the flash-mob rave—“I don’t think we could pull something like that off if we wanted to,” library spokeswoman Judith Panitch told American Libraries—staff felt it would be more harmful to stand in the way of students than to let them rave. “So we just kind of braced,” she said.

Panitch expressed hope that the partyers had a positive feeling about their experience at the library and attributed the two raves’ success to a responsible student body, nothing that some celebrants even stayed around to clean up afterward. “I guess the library is a natural gathering place for students,” Panitch said.

Posted on May 1, 2009.