As we approach the Christmas season, exams and essay deadlines draw ever closer. Typically, at this time of year, students descend in their droves on the College libraries, desperate for a desk to study at or, in many people’s cases, to dump their belongings onto as they spend two hours nursing a coffee or smoking outside the Arts Building. While it hardly needs to be said that social distancing measures have exacerbated the long ignored issue of lack of seating and space, the problem is all the more glaring when compared to how other colleges have fared when compared to Trinity.
“The fact is that social distancing and pandemic restrictions have not so much created problems in the library, as they have exacerbated existing ones.”
Covid-19 restrictions have been relaxed due the modified Level Three for December, meaning the library is operating at increased capacity compared to the stricter measures involved in Level Five. The updated measures mean students can pre-book study spaces for no more than 25 hours a week, and can virtually check into their seat from 30 minutes beforehand, or 15 minutes after the slot begins. Students have a 25 hour limit per week, and must present the email confirmation to stewards before entering. In a recent email to students, Head of Reading Room Services and Space Peter Dudley said: “As we approach exams… demands for library seats will inevitably increase. The measures outlined above will help, but the reality is that the library has lost 80% of its capacity due to social distancing measures.” Of course, the library has done its best to cater to students given the extremely difficult circumstances. However, the fact is that social distancing and pandemic restrictions have not so much created problems in the library, as they have exacerbated existing ones.
In an email to students on December 3, Helen Shenton, library archivist wrote: “following the re-introduction of Level 3 restrictions, the Library will be resuming evening and Saturday opening (with Counter Services) in the Berkeley, Lecky, Ussher and Hamilton libraries from Monday, December 7,” to facilitate students studying for exams. From December 7 to December 20, the BLU will be open from 9am to 8pm, and 9.30am to 4pm on Saturdays, while closing on Sundays. In order to prepare Kinsella Hall for evening study, the Ussher Library will close at 7pm, or 3pm on Fridays.
“Many have pointed out the superfluity of students checking into their booked seats, if they can simply check in from anywhere, meaning a desk can be left needlessly empty if a student doesn’t arrive for their slot on time.”
Many have pointed out the superfluity of students checking into their booked seats if they can simply check in from anywhere, meaning a desk can be left needlessly empty if a student doesn’t arrive for their slot on time. In Maynooth University, students are given a barcode on the desk sticker at their seats to check in, which seems much more sensible. The library opening hours in Maynooth are also slightly longer than in Trinity, with the John Paul II Library opening from 10am to 10pm. During Level Five the BLU was open 9am to 5pm. While social distancing and minimising contact with others is of course vital, it is unclear why Covid-19 was previously deemed more likely to spread during the hours after 5pm.
In October of last year, “desk hogging” became such a pervasive problem that College hired teams of postgraduate students to monitor the libraries and leave notes on desks reserved with personal belongings with a time frame given for the students to return. As well as this, the fiasco in Hilary exam season in April last year, which left countless students queuing outside the library frantically hoping to obtain a seat due to reduced opening hours is further testament to the pervasive issue of lack of seating.
While the safety of the college community must come first during the pandemic, had the issue of shortage of space been resolved sooner, the coming exam season would cause much less unnecessary stress for students at an already extremely taxing time. This problem is only emphasised when contrasted with the manner in which new buildings such as Trinity Business School have been prioritised over increased capacity in the libraries. Of course, the library has done their best given the circumstances, but what is frustrating is that the existing circumstances had already proven to be untenable time and time again, without any decisive action taken by the College.
“Although the Covid-19 situation is ever changing, it was fairly obvious to most people by the summer that the library would need to facilitate social distancing in some capacity, come September.”
Although the Covid-19 situation is ever changing, it was fairly obvious to most people by the summer that the library would need to facilitate social distancing in some capacity, come September. To suggest otherwise would be ludicrous. College had the opportunity to invest in fit for purpose study spaces in the library to make life easier for students come term time, but ultimately chose not to, as it has time and time again.