The all-nighter facade

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Photo: Sammi McKee

Candidates for sabbatical positions love to advocate the promise for 24/7 library opening times. It seems to be taken for granted that this is what the majority of students at St Andrews want; however, when the opportunity presents itself, only few students take full advantage of it. When the library offered and widely publicized all-night opening times during the exam periods last May and December, the volume of nocturnal students did not justify the added expense: only between 20 and 25 students could be found in the building by 3 am. The demand for a 24/7 service is an illusion.

While many new students may be surprised to find that the library is not always open, perhaps due to the example set by larger universities, as well as the stereotype of the student who works at unusual hours and pores over literature in the middle of the night, the library’s institutional history cannot be ignored. It did offer a 24/7 service for years, but discontinued it four years ago, as it was not utilized. There was no justification for the substantial expenses of extra heating, lighting, security, and cleaning services when very few students took advantage of it. The trials last year were run with staff who volunteered to work beyond their contracts. Once again, it was found that the usage was minimal; this is why the library will not be repeating last years’ all-nighters during the exam period.

The current opening times reflect the nature of our town and university, as well as students’ habits ob- served over the years: not many students wish to work in the library on Friday and Saturday nights, hence the earlier closing times. The town’s small size makes it easier for students to make short trips to the library without needing to stay over longer periods of time.

Short-loan books can be taken home and still be returned on time. As a comparison, the only library in Scotland with 24/7 opening times is Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, and it was specifically designed with this in mind. In fact, the only UK universities who virtually never close their libraries are large research universities such as Newcastle, as well as several London universities, none of which serve as an accurate role model for the unique character of St Andrews.

According to assistant director Ewan McCubbin, instead of investing money in 24/7 opening times, the library is focusing on providing its services during breaks, which will be beneficial to postgraduates and students who remain in St Andrews during the holidays. Additionally, the library is looking into extending its opening times from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week, provided there is sufficient demand, in order to model the university libraries of Glasgow and Dundee. The library has also made much effort in expanding and improving the social learning space, reflecting the change in students’ preferred study habits, which have become more interactive and

group-based. There are also plans underway for an online widget that will inform library users of how full it is at any time. According to the statistics recorded when matriculation cards are scanned (this, by the way, is the reason for the scanning at the entrance and exit, not surveillance), the busiest times are Sundays and Wednesday afternoons, with 6500 to 7000 users coming in and out. The busiest the library is at any one time is 900 people. This widget may not come in handy in telling which seats are not reserved with a coat and a laptop, but it will still be very useful to students wishing to determine at which times they are most likely to find an empty chair or an unoccupied computer.

It appears that students like the idea of having a library that is always open, but do not use it when it becomes reality, even during the stressful exam period.Let us stop pretending that 24/7 library opening hours are a necessity for the majority of students.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I think that the only reason we want a 24/7 library is because it’s so congested during the day. Our study spaces are so crowded that wider hours might relieve some of the pressure.

  2. I think that the a 1-2 week test period isn’t demonstrative of the student body’s desire for 24 hour access to library. Students form surprisingly strict work habits, and these most likely won’t change during a test period of that length. Whether or not the entire library, or access to the book collection, should remain open is a financial argument, but it’s very important for the university to provide a social and studious area for students to gather at any point during the day/night.

    The exam revision test period is an even more skewed example of student behaviour; Without lectures, tutorials, and deadlines during the day, students don’t feel the need to stay past 12/2am, whereas deadlines during the semester DO generate that need.

  3. I don’t think 24/7 access is really necessary all semester, but I know I’d appreciate if the library could open before 8am. So maybe they could trial 7am – 3am? I find it odd how the library isn’t open at 7am, but the gym and most of the coffee shops are.

  4. Bring back the 24h library for exam periods!

    No, you would not find me in the library at 3am. Yes I would be asleep. No, I am not nocturnal.

    But like clockwork this last revision season, I was up at 4am and in the library by 5. Don’t disregard the Margaret Thatchers among us who wake up freakishly early and work best at that time. The relative emptiness and peace is exactly why we Maggies have been thriving these past couple of years.

    The power of walking through those aisles on the third floor and watching the lights above flicker on to greet us is fuelling the minds which will one day reign over you who sleep.

    The ability to find an unoccupied toilet cubicle on the first try is… breathtaking.

    To sit at a computer and to sneeze with all of your might without one single look of judgment.

    That, my friends, is an unspeakable joy.

    That is freedom.

    We are the 0.03%. But our value is incalculable.

  5. I find I rarely need the library 24/7 during exams – I think people were begging for it without considering whether they actually needed it. During these periods people are much more conscious about setting a schedule, getting the right amount of sleep etc.

    I think there’s far more demand for 24/7 during normal semester, when people have put off tutorial prep until 9pm the night before, for example and need longer than till 2am to finish…it’s never going to happen though, the Library won’t want to encourage all-nighters in such a way. There’s definitely better things that could be done with the money. Max Kelleher already wrote a good comment on it

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