Opinion: Library lights shouldn’t leave UI students in the dark

Saving electricity with motion-sensor lighting in the library is not worth an insufficient studying environment.


Grace Colton

Eco friendly lighting fixtures are seen at the University of Iowa’s Main Library on Thursday, December 13, 2018.

Jason O'Day, Columnist

When I go to the library, I shouldn’t need a kerosene lamp, but going to the top floor of the Main Library might as well be an expedition. All of the lights on the top two floors of the Main Library have motion sensors, so they turn off automatically if no movement is detected within various amounts of time.

I timed this when I sat at a table in the east wing of the fifth floor. Seven minutes in, the row of lights directly above me went out, and 14 minutes after that, both rows to the left of me went dark. To avoid straining my eyes, I had no choice but to stand up and vigorously wave my arms around like Bernie Sanders to get the lights back on.

This may seem like a trivial first-world problem, but it seriously hinders my ability to get my work done. Doing this several times an hour makes concentration impossible, as I sit there in constant apprehension, wondering how long I’ll have light to read with.

The designated quiet study areas of the Main Library on the fourth and fifth floors are my favorite places to study, because they are among the few spaces on campus where I can read and take notes in silence. For many students who live in noisy dorms or apartments, this is the only quiet area available for them to focus on their assignments.

These spaces are overdue for improvements, and they don’t have to be state of the art like the business and engineering buildings. All I want is better lighting.

And this isn’t just a pet peeve of mine. Medical experts at the University of Utah say that say that reading in dim light does not damage eyesight but it does accelerate eye fatigue, as I found during my experiment. According to Harvard Medical School, the, the optimal lighting scenario when reading and writing is to have it shining directly on the page to avoid glare. Basically, desk lamps are better than overhead lights.

Over the summer, the big libraries I visited in Chicago had individual desk and table lamps in their study spaces, as does the St. Ambrose University Library where I studied when I lived in Davenport.

Of course, the library isn’t without its reasons to have their system set up this way. The Daily Iowan reported in January that in January that new lighting fixtures were put in place in order to be more efficient  and conserve energy. However, the primary function of the library should be serving UI students, not keeping them in the dark.

I think it would make more sense to deactivate the motion sensors on the lights to keep them on at all hours the library is open, or at least extend the window of time necessary for the lights to go off without movement. Mounting individual lamps or lights on the desks and tables in the Main Library’s top floors would be an energy efficient and cost-effective alternative.

The window of time for those lights to turn off automatically is quite reasonable, about every 45 minutes or so if I’m the only one around. But the east side becomes the dark side much more quickly. Even Motel 6, which offers the cheapest stays in the business, brags about how they’ll leave the light on for me. I should get at least as much similar accommodation from a renowned Big Ten university that charges about $5,000 per semester for my tuition.

Don’t get me wrong — dancing is fun, but that shouldn’t be the toll students must pay to avoid studying in the dark.


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.