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.