By 10pm on weekday evenings, Trinity is ready to go to sleep. The buildings begin to close and the crowd at The Pav thins. It is the hour when the foxes appear and the seagulls come to roost on the cricket pitch. Campus is eerily quiet, save for one noise: the beep of T-cards and the clatter of the door which leads into Kinsella Hall.
Though it bears a separate name, Kinsella Hall is perhaps best understood as the night time alter ego of the Ussher Library. Both refer to the same structure, built in 1999. But when the libraries shut at 10pm, access to the Ussher’s collections is closed off and Kinsella Hall becomes solely accessible from the Ussher podium. The building opened as a 24-hour library in 2014 thanks to the generous contributions of philanthropists Eric and Barbara Kinsella. Prior to its opening, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union lobbied extensively for a 24-hour study space to be made available. Upon the opening of Kinsella Hall, the then TCDSU President Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne expressed the opinion that “24/7 access is not just a necessity coming up to exam time, but also throughout the year, in order to complete projects and research.”
Anyone who frequents Kinsella Hall after 10pm and takes a look will conclude that he was right. The floors of the library, which remain open through the night, are more often than not, at the very least, half-full, and some never clear out completely. Walking around the tightly packed desks is a unique experience: students’ laptops display complex diagrams and academic papers, mathematical equations and oil paintings from the Italian Renaissance. The library air, punctuated by whispers during the day, becomes totally silent at night. Speaking to students between 11:30pm and 12:30am on a freezing November night, Trinity News tried to get a sense of who these 24-hour library people are, and what brings them to Kinsella Hall at unsociable hours.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the time of year, many of the students who spoke to Trinity News have been driven to the 24-hour library out of necessity. More often than not, the response to the question “What are you working on?” involves an assignment due tomorrow or next week which they had two months to do but ultimately put on the long finger. Others, though, are more regular in their attendance. A large portion of the STEM students who spoke to Trinity News feel that long hours in the library are necessary to keep up with coursework, or to catch up on an increasing amount of recorded lectures.
“If you’re at home you try to focus but eventually you just find your way back to your bed”
The unique atmosphere of a nighttime library is also a major factor which attracts these students to Kinsella Hall at night. As the crowds thin out and the air cools, the conditions become more conducive to concentration. “It’s better than when it’s super full in the Ussher” one law student says, “at 2pm you get no seats and it’s kind of hot. This is a lot better.” Most remarked on the “quiet peer-pressure” generated by the close quarters of the library, something which many feel is essential for keeping them off their phones and out of their bed. A molecular medicine student, somewhat paradoxically, told Trinity News: “There’s less distractions because there’s people around, you can’t just go on your phone. You have to be doing something.” Others explained that having a space dedicated purely for work is essential to their productivity: “If you’re at home you try to focus but eventually you just find your way back to your bed,” said one student. Another added: “I don’t want to associate my room with study.”
However, the calm and focussed atmosphere of the library at this time of day is often at odds with these students’ state of mind. Fast approaching deadlines and mounting pressure can turn these late-night study sessions into highly stressful experiences. “I have kind of pulled an all-nighter here,” one law student admitted, “I stayed here ‘til half-six in the morning, came home and sat my exam. The next night I stayed ‘til half-four.”
“In the moment it definitely doesn’t feel like anything’s paying off but I’m just hoping it does”
It could be argued that the 24-hour facility fuels these unhealthy habits. Many of the students Trinity News spoke with lamented their ruined sleep schedules and chaotic work-life balance: “My sleep schedule is completely fucked up” said one second year medicine student. He continued: “I’m always constantly studying. I have a huge caffeine intake, so I usually wake up around 2pm anyway. I go to the library around 2 or 3 and stay for like 12 to 14 hours.” Then he goes to bed and does it all over again. “You learn to operate on four to six hours of sleep pretty well,” commented one theoretical physics student. “In the moment it definitely doesn’t feel like anything’s paying off, but I’m just hoping it does,” he added.
The never-ending library
After spending an hour talking to students outside the doors of Kinsella Hall, it became clear that having a place to focus is hugely important for a generation faced with more potential distractions than any other in history. If you need somebody looking over your shoulder in order to keep you off your phone or out of your bed, the library setting is perfect, particularly in the dark of night when all you can do is study. However, this environment comes at a cost. Mix the enormous workloads of STEM subjects and the open-ended reading lists of the humanities with the availability of a 24/7 workspace and it becomes all too possible to fall into a constant cycle of work and sleep.
In the age of Blackboard and online lectures, college work never really goes away. Thanks to Kinsella Hall, neither does the library. It is always there, 24/7, its lights glowing bright against the darkness of the cricket pitch.