The news that college intends to recruit a team of students as “desk monitors” in the library during exam time has been met with a mixed reaction across campus. It has become increasingly clear that the practice of “desk hogging” is a significant problem in the library. Last year, in the weeks prior to the Hilary term examination period, every seat in the Ussher library would usually be occupied by 8am, despite only half of the desks actually having a student present. The practice of students saving desks for extensive periods of time is now the norm, and it is appropriate that it is finally being addressed. But is employing students to police their fellow students the best way to deal with the problem?
The idea of College turning students against students in the library has some concerning Orwellian undertones. Recruiting desk monitors from the existing student body will mean that students will have to take action against their fellow students in the library. There are manifold potential downsides to this move. Fundamentally, the student body thrives on the fact that it is a unified group. When students are faced with difficulties, within college or externally, the strength of the student body as a cohesive unit becomes apparent. The general feeling among students, whether postgraduates or undergraduates, is that we have got each other’s backs. Theoretically, the idea that some students will work on Trinity’s payroll to police others in the library threatens the sanctity of the unified student body that is so intrinsic to college life.
“A few posters referring to a fabled “thirty minute rule” dotted around the library walls aren’t enough to alter the behaviour of an entire student body.”
However, in practical terms, it can be seen that student desk monitors are not so much a threat to the student body as they are a last resort solution to a problem that has largely been caused by students themselves. Desk monitors may seem like a radical proposal, but it’s fair to say that the problem of desk reserving has reached a crisis point in the library, and other strategies up until this point have proved unsuccessful. A few posters referring to a fabled “thirty-minute rule” dotted around the library walls aren’t enough to alter the behaviour of an entire student body. Radical problems demand radical solutions.
Furthermore, student desk monitors have been utilised in libraries across the UK and, more recently, in the University of Limerick (UL) and Dublin City University (DCU) to great success. UL’s “Every Seat Counts” campaign and DCU’s “Share the Chair” campaign both operate on the same terms. After numerous checks by student monitors, if a seat is still vacant after 45 minutes, “all personal belongings are packed away into a storage box and stored underneath or adjacent to the seat”. Forty-five minutes is a much more reasonable length of time than half an hour, as it allows students adequate time to get food or coffee, or attend a meeting. Placing students’ personal belongings in a box that is stored at the desk seems to be the most effective way to vacate the seat, while ensuring that the belongings are kept relatively safe. All things considered, assuming Trinity adopts a similarly well-organised policy with regards to its own library seat campaign, it shouldn’t be the disaster that everyone is fearing.
Desk-reserving for extensive periods of time is, by its very nature, indefensible. The main reason that most students reserve desks with their belongings is simply because it’s the culture that has developed in Trinity, particularly in the Ussher. Around exam time, when everyone else is reserving desks overnight and you’re not, you won’t get a seat: so you join the crowd. The main change that the student desk monitors will hopefully enact will be to Trinity’s library culture itself. With the threat of belongings being moved, students will begin to simply take their stuff when they are leaving for an extended period, thus rendering a steady turnover of seats becoming free. Rather than entering the empty Ussher to a sea of tables covered in scarves and books, seats will either be occupied by students, or free to take, which in any normal library is how it should be.
“…in truth, the library monitors should not even be necessary in the first place, as it is the lack of available seating offered by Trinity that causes students to reserve desks.”
There is hope that the desk-hogging problem in the library will be largely resolved by the desk monitors. However, inadequate seating and overcrowding in the library itself remains an urgent issue. It is the lack of available seats in the 24-hour library and restrictive opening hours that contribute to the culture of desk-reserving that exists in the library at the moment. During peak study periods in the lead up to exams, enormous pressure is placed on library spaces, that manifests itself in large queues forming before doors open in the morning. The library should be a place of sanctuary and calm for students during exam periods but instead, it is rendered a competitive and sometimes hostile environment, as students vie for the few available desks.
Trinity may market the library desk monitors as their “solution” to the issue of seating in the library but in truth, the library monitors should not even be necessary in the first place, as it is the lack of available seating offered by Trinity that causes students to reserve desks. It is patently obvious that the three floors of the 24-hour Ussher do not provide enough seating at peak times to meet the demand of students. Restrictive weekend and holiday opening hours catalyse the problem. Only certain areas of the library are open at certain times and so, students are awkwardly funnelled into smaller spaces at various times, increasing demand for desks that are already in short supply.
The issues surrounding the library’s inadequate opening hours and restrictive rules on book lending have already had an article written about them in the previous academic year. While library monitors will help to discourage seat reservation, they will not solve the long term existing issues surrounding available spaces within Trinity’s libraries. If Trinity wants to market itself as a “home of excellence” with world class graduates, it ought to provide enough study spaces for its students to utilise for as many hours as possible. 80 million euro was spent on the new Business school this year, without any new library space opening within the school or anywhere on campus. But let’s keep pretending that “desk-hogging” is the real problem.