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Library challenges ‘Challenge’

Amanda Gray | Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Beginning Thursday afternoon, a threatening sign greeted students as they entered the Hesburgh Library: “Due to the problems brought on by the ‘Hesburgh Challenge,’ we reserve the right to look into bags being brought into the Hesburgh Library.”

Dr. Susan Ohmer, interim director of the Hesburgh Libraries, said the signs address a growing problem in the library — the Hesburgh Challenge, a drinking competition where students consume one alcoholic drink per floor of the library.

“We don’t call it a tradition because it’s fairly new,” Ohmer said. “Calling it a tradition is also debasing true University traditions. We call it a practice.”

The Challenge began around eight years ago, according to facilities manager Ross Fergerson.

“Two years ago, it started ramping up,” he said. “We found 1,300 empty beer cans in the library then.”

The Challenge caused more problems this year than last year, Fergerson said. This year, library security, monitors and housekeeping staff found more than 400 empty beer cans as well as 40 full beer cans.

Library personnel found evidence of the Challenge earlier this year than in the past, Fergerson said.

“In the past, it was [the] two to three weeks [around finals week and Senior Week], but it’s stretched out to eight weeks now,” he said. “When it started, it was mostly in the stairwells — now it’s moved out to the stacks.”

Library security caught eight people drinking in the library already this year, Fergerson said. Security caught 28 students two years ago and 17 students last year.

Ohmer said the library’s major concern is student safety.

“[Putting up the signs] is a way to respect privacy and ensure safety,” she said.

Heightened security is also designed to reduce the destructive consequences of students drinking excessively in the library, such as vomiting and urinating on the shelves of books, Ohmer said.

“[These actions] are putting other people in a position that’s really disrespectful,” Fergerson said.

He said students urinate behind the elevators and vomit in trashcans and on the floor.

“It’s really disrespectful,” Ohmer said. “It also takes time away from other housekeeping duties.”

Since the signs were placed near the front door, Ferguson said library personnel searched 60 to 70 bags each night. No evidence of the Challenge has been found since the searches began.

“One reason we implemented this is we were hearing beer cans clanking,” Ohmer said. “We wanted a way to look out for the library.”

Fergerson said the signs are a visible deterrent for bad behavior.

“Security has told me they’re seeing around 20 people a night looking at the signs and walking away,” he said.

The anti-Challenge message has gone viral, Ohmer said. Students publicized the signs’ message through Facebook and Twitter.

“We’ve had quite a few letters saying, ‘Thank you,'” Ohmer said. “People are very happy about the policy.”

Fergerson said if a student is caught in the library participating in the Challenge, they are handed over to security for any punishment.

“We’re working with other offices to make sure we’re following policies,” Ohmer said. “As intelligent as our students are, we’re hoping to appeal to their better nature.”

Ohmer said she believes most students would be disgusted if they knew the true nature of the problems caused by the Challenge.

“The sad part is we’re not dealing with the whole student body,” Fergerson said. “This is just a small portion.”

Another problem caused by the Challenge is graffiti, he said. Students write on desks, walls and other furniture on every floor as they complete the Challenge, which causes a lot of monetary damage. Fergerson said removing or covering this graffiti at the end of the year can cost up to $5,000.

“I hope for everyone’s sake and safety that this doesn’t continue,” Ohmer said.