Trinity’s library spaces need urgent attention and systematic change ahead of exam season to cope with social distancing

While lack of seats and study spaces has always been a problem in Trinity’s libraries, this issue has been exacerbated by requirements to socially distance

Any Trinity student who frequents the library, particularly during exam season, knows the all too familiar struggle of trying to find a seat: pacing the BLU, passing rows upon rows of occupied seats, or desks reserved with a pile of untouched books and a jacket. In October of last year, the practice of “desk hogging” became such an issue that College hired teams of postgraduate students to manage the situation. The monitors surveyed the libraries, leaving notes on desks reserved with personal belongings with a time frame given for the students to return, or risk having their desk cleared.  

However, insufficient library seating is far from a new problem. In March, 1961, Trinity News’ front page lamented the issue of ‘rationed reading,’ claiming that when the Reading Room opened at ten each morning, a queue of a hundred students was already there. The paper advised students that the only way to ensure you could get both a book and a desk to study at, was to pair up, and for one student to reserve two seats, and the other to join the ‘I-want-a-book-queue.’

 

“The issue of lack of seating came to a head in Hilary exam season of last year, with library hours reduced over the Easter weekend leaving a crowd of over a hundred students waiting outside at 9am.”

But of course, one needn’t look as far back as 1961 to see the evident lack of space in both the BLU, and in the Hamilton. The issue of seating and study spaces shortages came to a head in Hilary exam season of last year. With library hours reduced over the Easter weekend,  a crowd of over a hundred students were left waiting outside at 9am in the hopes of securing a seat. The fact that the Book of Kells remained open to tourists at this time, while students scrambled to procure books and a quiet place to study, further emphasised the misplaced priorities of College. 

While finding a seat in the library is a challenge at the best of times, Covid-19, and subsequent social distancing will exacerbate this issue significantly. On September 18, Provost Patrick Prendergast informed students via email that despite the majority of teaching being moved online due to the Government’s decision to move Dublin to Level 3 of lockdown, libraries would remain open. While the Government has confirmed that higher education is a priority, so too is reducing Covid-19 cases in the capital. As a result, a series of measures have been put in place in the library. As of October 5, access to the library requires pre-booking, and face coverings are mandatory. 

“College must accelerate funding to provide an increase in seating in both the BLU and the Hamilton, and should urgently invest in new, fit-for-purpose study spaces.”

It is evident that lack of seating in the library around exam time is an issue that has long been ignored by College. Although social distancing is necessary to curb the spread of Covid-19, the shortage of seating will undoubtedly be amplified by this measure. As a result, College must accelerate the funding to provide an increase in seating in both the BLU and the Hamilton, and should invest in new, fit-for-purpose study spaces as a matter of urgency. Given students will be studying predominantly online at the very least for Michaelmas term, it is vital that they have access to a quiet place to work, now that a significant proportion of learning will be self directed, rather than by a face-to-face tutorial or lecture. Those who live with younger siblings, a large family, or in crowded student accommodation should not be deprived of access to books, materials, and an environment suitable for studying. As well as this, students who do use the BLU to study face restricted opening hours until mid October. The library is operating on 9 to 5 opening hours until October 11, which excludes many students who work hours that clash with this. 

While lack of places to sit across campus more generally is an issue, (particularly in the Arts Building) in early September,  TCDSU announced the opening of a number of new student spaces across campus, including in New Square and Botany Bay. TCDSU said in a press statement that these would be places for students to socialise and attend online lectures.

“The fact remains that lack of seating is a significant issue that College has consistently ignored.”

The spaces are fit for use for 430-480 students per hour, open from 9am to 6pm. However, outdoor marquees are not a comparable substitute for a study space in the library, and the fact remains that lack of seating is a significant issue that College has consistently ignored. Unfortunately, this is part of a broader trend in how College has infamously treated students in recent years. This trend has been largely dominated by ignoring the wellbeing and education of students with regards to shoddy timetabling and administration, all the while prioritising College as a hub for tourists. While the fact that tourists are now unable to access campus would lead one to hope that College will finally prioritise students, their track record leaves little to be optimistic about. 

Grace Gageby

Grace Gageby is the Deputy Comment Editor for Trinity News and studies English and Philosophy.