Library opening hours should not be restricted this semester

The library is an essential part of student life, socially and academically. Both aspects are already constrained by the pandemic

Student morale is at an all-time low; a post-Christmas cloud of gloom has descended on the student population with the realisation that we will be entering the second semester amid the country’s third lockdown. For many the library is a safe haven and the most exhilarating part of their week; I must admit that the opportunity to venture beyond the four walls of my student accommodation to the library has become a somewhat thrilling prospect. However, library opening hours are promised to shrink drastically this term, with revised opening hours already in effect before the beginning of semester two. The Berkeley, Lecky and Ussher are all to offer new opening hours of 1-5pm, with the Ussher Basement, 4th, and 5th floors to become inaccessible for the foreseeable future. This change in accessibility to a crucial college service threatens to decrease the quality of student life even further due to unalterable circumstances caused by pandemic.

“With no lectures and tutorials to attend, the library has become a last resort to maintain a sense of stability and normality when all else remains uncertain and wavering.”

Regular trips to the library have become an essential aspect of student life this year and for the vast majority it has served as the only way to maintain a sense of college community and identity. With no lectures and tutorials to attend, the library has become a last resort to maintain a sense of stability and normality when all else remains uncertain and wavering. Many students are isolated from the college and have yet to experience a single class on campus. Under the current circumstances this cannot be helped, however, I believe that the library is a thoroughly regulated environment that poses very little risk to student health and therefore should be kept open for the usual hours if at all possible. Unfortunately, the value of the library service to students during these isolating times is being severely underestimated. It is one of the only facilities to remain open and the proposal of significant cuts to opening hours threatens to sever the gradually fraying ties that remain between the student body and their sense of belonging to their college community.

“Postgraduates rely heavily on the library for resources to aid their research and the new reduction in opening hours will have a detrimental effect on the progression of their studies.”

The library also serves a vital academic role to students of all levels, both undergraduate and postgraduate. Postgraduates rely heavily on the library for resources to aid their research and the new reduction in opening hours will have a detrimental effect on the progression of their studies. These students have been expected to pay the same extortionate fees as any other year, despite the rapidly decreasing access to the usual services College has to offer. The issue of the limited availability of LEN books which can be taken out on loan from the library presents an obstacle at the best of times and this problem will be worsened by the restricted opening hours. An email from the Secretary’s Office informed students that there will also be no counter services in the library for the time being and pre-booking will be essential to collect items, resulting in less access to library services than initially anticipated. The recent changes will make it even more challenging than usual for students to gain from the resources the library has to offer. 

A large proportion of students do not have access to a suitable learning environment at home and depend heavily on library services to keep up with the academic demands of college. It is extremely challenging and frustrating to keep focused on the task at hand when surrounded by the chaotic home environment that some students are faced with, and this year, in particular, more students have had to remain living at home. A survey conducted by the college towards the end of last term highlighted just how many students are having to cope with learning from home, with a majority of 61% of respondents reporting that they are currently staying at home with family. The survey also indicated how students feel that they are keeping up with their studies and how they are managing overall with the current situation. The results showed that 18% felt they were significantly behind with their learning and a majority of 53% of students were feeling a bit behind but were making progress. Furthermore, the survey indicated that 20% of respondents felt very stressed and worried. This survey was taken when the library was remaining open for its usual hours of 9am-5pm, the benefits of which were surely felt by the student population. With a lack of educational support at home, the library is both an essential facility and an escape for some; the benefits of keeping this service as widely available as possible are vast. Restricting library access would not only put an immense amount of pressure on students who are already struggling to work from home, but also cause further stress and anxiety.

“Whilst the intention of reducing opening hours was most likely to minimise the amount of student contact and thus the risk of students and staff contracting the virus, these restrictions will actually result in an even higher demand for seats concentrated into a matter of hours.

A range of issues that already exist due to the reduced amount of library seats because of social distancing measures will only be exacerbated by these further restrictions. It has already been a challenge this year to secure one of the highly coveted library seats online before they’re whipped up in a matter of hours and these new narrower opening hours will make the library an even more inaccessible facility. Whilst the intention of reducing opening hours was most likely to minimise the amount of student contact and thus the risk of students and staff contracting the virus, these restrictions will actually result in an even higher demand for seats concentrated into a matter of hours. Although the library’s capacity will be further reduced by these measures, it will merely be the opening hours that will be cut rather than the amount of students who actually enter the premises. Those who have the privilege of being able to go to the library will not have classes or commitments that clash with the library’s exclusionary four-hour study slot. 

Evidently, limiting library opening hours creates more issues than it solves. As we prepare to brace ourselves for the remainder of the third lockdown the library will prove to be a vital service, creating a link between the student population and the college, a link that is weakening as the pandemic continues to isolate students from other valuable resources and aspects of college life. Students are being deprived of both their academic and social needs due to the rapidly decreasing connection to the college campus. Now, more than ever, as the only college space still open to students, library availability is crucial to providing a fulfilling student experience, albeit a limited one.