Thursday, June 15, 2006

The 24/7 time and space of information labor

Today a news item on Inside Higher Ed discusses the wisdom of keeping university library and computing sites open 24/7 to meet student demand for round-the-clock resource availability:

Each new year seems to be marked by a flourish of excited press releases and announcements regarding expanded hours of operation at libraries and technology centers at colleges and universities across the nation.

While many administrators boast that such developments are part of their efforts to be responsive to student desires, many health professionals, especially those focused on sleep research, say that the extra hours may actually be harming the well-being and health of students. At a recent meeting of the American College Health Association several professionals were abuzz about sleep issues in the college-age population that they feel aren’t getting enough ettention, but many see the problems only growing larger.

“We are living in a commercial world that goes 24/7,” says Michael McNeil, coordinator of the Health Empowerment Office at Temple University. “My colleagues in higher education may not like this, but we’re fostering procrastination and cramming — time management skills should be put first.”

Alison Beaver, director of health promotion at the University of Virginia’s Elson Student Health Center, says that she wouldn’t be surprised to one day learn that the prevalence of mental health issues reported by many of today’s students are correlated with a lack of sleep. Research is currently ongoing in this area.

The article does suggest that perhaps late-night noise in dorms and apartments leads students to seek out-of-home study and work sites, even if they have broadband internet connections in their bedrooms. But overall the piece neglects the question of what might be driving student patterns of 24/7 resource demand and use. Is it simply "procrastination and cramming," or might this demand be related to the difficulty of students finding open computer terminals and/or study spaces during peak hours of demand? Perhaps professors are demanding more and more online reading and research as components of classwork (I know I am). Or perhaps library and computing resources are actually being used more for leisure -- gaming, chat, web-surfing, and collegiality -- during the extended hours, thus contributing to mental and emotional health.

More research on this would be great. There's probably academic library "uses and users" research out there already on the topic. It would be nice to see this research about changes in undergraduate information labor time/space pattern correlated with research in the time/space patterns of information in the corporate, government, and non-profit worlds of post-college employment, too. Perhaps that's where the real speedup is happening ... and perhaps, like it or not, 24/7 information sites, resources and labor habits in college are preparing our students for their ultimate high-tech and high-stress careers.


Rob Capriccioso, "Sleepy hollow," Inside Higher Ed (15 June 2006)

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