Union stages Library sit-in

The Students’ Union held a sit-in in the Library over the weekend to protest at cuts in library services. Sixty students occupied the Berkeley Library from closing time on Saturday for twenty hours in protest at cuts in the Library budget and reductions in opening hours.

Library accounts for 2008/09 show that the budget for buying books fell by €650,000, a fall of 34%; that funding from College for items other than pay fell by €400,000 (15%); and that the pay bill rose by €500,000 (6%) in that year. The accounts, which were released by the Students’ Union, imply that the Library cut book purchases by a third to pay for wage increases for staff. Since the start of the year the Library has stopped opening on Sundays. Library opening hours in Trinity are the second worst in the country at 71.5 hours per week. The national average is 80 hours and the highest in the country is University College Dublin, whose Library is open over 100 hours per week.

The Students’ Union is campaigning for opening hours to be brought up to the national average and for budget cuts to be reversed. The College said that the Library has tried to “protect the acquisiton of books”. According to the College, the apparent budget cut is because the previous year saw major purchases of books for research collections that were funded from “Library generated income”, and that the actual decrease in book buying that support teaching was €29,000 (3%).

The SU has been in negotiation with the College over the cuts but claim College are unwilling to budge and denied the existence of budget cuts. Meetings with the Vice-Provost last week were repeatedly postponed at short notice and reportedly left SU representatives fuming. The HEA have said that the €600 increase in the Registration Fee can be used to fund Library and Information services, but the Vice-Provost ignored this in negotiations, according to the SU. They say they are “extremely frustrated” and “perplexed at how College is refusing to listen”. Ó’Broin says they are “showing that this is a major issue and that its not going away” with the protest.

Figures released by College show that the non-pay funding for the Library has fallen by 25% over the last three years, and that 90% of this funding is spent on books that support student teaching and periodicals. Spending on books that support student teaching has fallen by 10% since 2007, a fall of €100,000. The spokeswoman says these cuts are linked to cuts in government funding and are “on a par with those received in all administrative and service areas”.

The College has said that the Pay and Non-Pay budgets for the Library are seperate. The increases in pay for Library staff are due to “national pay agreements, normal salary progession and provision for liabilities arising from the Fixed Term Workers Act” and that College has no control over these.

Sunday opening was only ever on a trial basis, according to College, and the Sunday opening in Hilary term 2009 was funded from the book budget. The College says that only 0.5% of, or 750, students used the library on a Sunday. The SU dispute these figures, saying that College used the lowest statistic from all the Sundays where the Library was open, during the Easter holiday.
The sit-in started half an hour from closing time (4pm) on Saturday when 60-70 students occupied the lobby in the Berkeley library with banners and posters reading “Books not cuts”, “pages not wages” and “save trinity library”. The protesters brought large quantities of food and water as well as sleeping bags, Ipod speakers, Board Games, DVDs and Laptops. One protestor, Barra Roantree, a JS Economics student, said they were staying until “’til demands are met, the hostages are all executed or 24 hours .. the last most likely”.

The reaction of Library staff ranged from amicable to confused to hostile. “If we could bring over the flatscreen from the Old Library it’d be great, we could watch the match” said one security guard, while another said “we’ve called Pat [Morey, Head of Security], you’re in trouble now”. Most felt that the students had “every right” to protest, in particular since library and security staff were on strike five days beforehand. A senior librarian had several testy exchanges with students, reportedly telling one “well you were stupid [to support it]”  to one student who said “we supported your strike”.

Assistant Junior Dean Joe O’Gorman arrived on the scene around 5pm followed shortly after by the Junior Dean, Dr. Emma Stokes. An initial angry exchange saw Stokes telling the SU President that she “would have appreciated some notice” and that the sit-in was “very inconvienient” for College staff, a complaint which was met with derision from some of the protesters. “It would kind of defeat the point to give advance notice” said one Junior Freshman. Following this relations became “quite amicable” according to Ó’Broin. Protesters were cordoned off in the centre of the library away from the books and reading rooms and were allowed to come and go for hot food and smoking breaks.

Shortly afterwards Stokes, the College official in charge of student discipline, gave a verbal committment there would be no disciplinary action against students for taking part in the protest, though this was not absolute – it was predicated on no damage taking place, for example. Stokes requested that a list of names and ID numbers of all the students involved in the protest be given to Security for health and safety reasons. The Students’ Union refused and instead offered that they would make a list of everyone involved but not hand it over.

A sabbatical officer would hold the list and sit with a security guard who would be posted on the library through the night, and keep note of who was present and who had left. The protest ended around 12pm on Sunday.