A new ‘collaborative space’ has opened this week on level one of the Main Library in response to growing demand for study spaces over the revision period.
The new area contains whiteboards and clusters of seats along with access to a microwave and hot water. The room is available from 8am till 10pm, but will be open later during second semester.
This space is the more immediate result of the ‘Journal or Seats’ survey. Director of Library Services and University Librarian John MacColl told The Saint, “We were very aware that the students were beginning to make it known to us that they were finding it very uncomfortable.”
An internal review had also alerted him and his team that a large amount of space on level four was being dedicated to printed journals, either because there were no electronic alternatives or that the cost was excessive to create one.
In October, 1,680 people responded to the question, “Access to these printed journals or study space?”
Mr MacColl said, “It’s a very stark choice, we presented it as a binary question just to make it fairly simple, although in reality we didn’t expect it to be an all or nothing.”
80 per cent of respondents voted to replace the printed journals with more study space. When broken down into different groups: undergraduates were 88 per cent in favour of replacement; taught postgraduate students were 74 per cent in favour of replacement; research postgraduates were 58 per cent in favour of replacement, while academic staff were only 57 per cent committed to keeping the printed journals.
Mr MacColl was quick to point out, “Academics don’t use this building in nearly the same numbers [as undergraduates].”
The Main Library is a key centre for students studying in town, and frequently becomes overcrowded in the exam season.
Mr MacColl said, “The students want to be in the library because of the long opening hours and comfortable building that combine study zones and social zones. It is very much a hub, because of our positioning within the geography of the University we attract students because we are close to the academic buildings and its convenient for them to be in here studying, going out to lectures and then come back.
“It, almost by definition as numbers increase, acts as a gravitational pull because students want to be in the same building as their friends are going to be, and they often find that they like to work in the library in the midst of lots of the people because it kind of gives them a sense of purpose, a sense of almost shared endeavour.”
Mr MacColl graduated from the University of St Andrews in 1983. During his time at the University, the Main Library had only recently been opened. Since then, the student population has trebled and the main building was refurbished in 2011, which was when Mr MacColl returned to St Andrews as Director of Library Services and as University Librarian.
In addition to the 70 seats created in the Main Library over the summer, this survey provides library staff with a mandate to remove the printed journals.
Furthermore, upon the opening of Eden Campus in Guardbridge next year, over 400 University staff will be reallocated from St Andrews. This will include over half the staff currently situated in the library, who will be moved to a ‘Professional Services Building’.
Additionally, Eden Campus will accommodate a large library storage area called the ‘Eden Campus Research Collection’.
Currently, much of level one of the Main Library is used to store these more infrequently used materials. Students do not have direct access to these materials. Instead they need to be specially requested.
Upon the opening of Eden Campus, these materials will be transferred from St Andrews and become available for all to browse at their own leisure. Given the fact that it may be difficult for some students to travel to Guardbridge easily, these materials can still be accessed in St Andrews by request as was the case prior.
Mr MacColl said, “That is going to ease the pressure on space in this building because quite a lot this floor is underground and is storage area and that is all going to move and also the staff who work on this level will also move to Eden Campus.
“The idea is to free up building space in town and use that for more academic activity because we recognise that students want to be in town and therefore the academics have to be in town. So it’s just an attempt to make better use of the estate in St Andrews itself.”
With level one of the Main Library set to be freed up, in the summer of 2020 that floor will be refurbished into a public study space that will contain 375 extra seats. Additionally, this refurbishment will add more toilets to the upper floors of the library and include gender-neutral bathrooms on level one.
Mr MacColl continued, “We recognise that having to work in such a crowded environment, not having enough toilets, especially for female students, is difficult. We are anxious to see what we can do and improve the situation and keep the good relationship between the library and the students.
“Obviously in two years’ time, things will get a lot better we will have a lot more space to offer. The University’s strategy says that by 2025, the expectation is that the University will have 10,000 students. So that’s going to be an increase but we’re already above 9,000 so it’s not a huge increase. But by then, we hope that the library space will be adequate for that number.
“We recognise that at the moment, we struggle to make the space we have adequate for the numbers who are wanting to use it. So we will do what we can in the interim, but by 2020, I imagine things will be much better.”