The Closing of the Library: How students are fighting back!

Zoe takes us through why the Library became such an important place for her and explores how students are fighting for it to reopen.

The library is a place with which many of us have a love-hate relationship. The thought of it and what it often stands for – long nights and stressful deadlines – can all but fill us with dread. However, when it’s gone, we’re left yearning for it to come back, completely outraged that we can no longer enter.  

I’m someone who, for a long time, never quite understood the appeal of the library. I love feeling cosy and, to me, the library felt like a very clinical space. The idea of dead silence also slightly terrified me as I’m still trying to grasp what an indoor voice is, let alone no voice (ironic, as the closing of the library, has left the students feeling silenced in a whole different way). Due to such concerns, I only really entered the library for the first time in November. Despite the fact it was an adjustment and wearing a mask, whilst necessary, can of course be uncomfortable, I came to understand the love-aspect people have for the library and why students are now urging the university to let us back in. 

The library gave me much-needed separation from home and work and, whilst of course, the cosiness was a miss, it allowed me to feel accomplished and my cosy room then became more relaxing as I associated it less with impending deadlines. As well as this, it made it a lot easier for me to balance work and social life, as I gained social interaction I never thought possible from a silent library. If I’d have known it would enhance my social life so much, I probably would have been there from day one. It became easy to see friends whilst simultaneously staying on top of work, as one could easily arrange to go to the library with friends or take a study break with the people you saw at the library. 

picture of the library
Source: Zoe Hemming-Clark

The library provided me with much-needed stability and consistency in a time that can be overwhelmingly stressful, a feeling which I am certainly not alone in. Many other students have felt the negative effect that the lack of a library was having on their lives – so much so that one student, Ruby Dunn, started a petition to get the library to reopen. The petition (which will be linked below) went live on the evening of Saturday the 15th and, by Wednesday, had already gained over 350 signatures. Dunn shared how many people felt that their general wellbeing was going to take a knock from the library being shut, with many reporting, as I have, that the library creates a space of stability and gets people out of the house, especially as online learning continues. As one student stated, “during lockdown, studying in my room or my flat was really mad for my motivation and overall mental wellbeing, being able to be outside again has made a huge difference to me.”   

As social creatures, simply being in a space where others are working can have very positive effects. It can be motivating, allow people to share in their stress and just give people the social interaction which, without the library, they may seldom have. Whilst not everyone will feel that way, they do not have to go to the library but taking that choice away from students is just wrong. 

Another key area that some students have highlighted is the lack of communication from the university, something which I can attest to as I didn’t even realise the library was shut until I entered it on Monday morning. As I left, the staff behind the desk said that they knew nothing and were just waiting on the signal from the university. So, if the staff haven’t even been told what’s going on, what’s the hope for students? Surely, given the uncertainty of the situation we all find ourselves in, the university would want to bring some much needed consistency to students. One student noted that this is not the first distressing library failing, as “the instability of use last semester also caused much distress, particularly as I and many others were left stranded without anywhere to work just days before my dissertation was due.” 

Source: Unsplash

Currently, there are around 280 university spaces available to study in – enough for less than 4% of university students! Getting a seat is a mission impossible and much less Covid friendly, as one student pointed out: “It’s challenging to find places to study that aren’t completely full. [..] The uni has already said that there’s no evidence of transmission of Covid in university buildings, so it seems the Covid measures in place have been effective, and the library was one of the places I felt most safe from Covid due to the strict Covid guidelines, which aren’t present in other study spaces or cafes.” The use of Covid to justify the shut of the library consistently feels like an excuse, as the union is set to properly reopen next week with events, such as Sinners and BOPs, getting the go-ahead. It calls into question the actual priorities of the university.  

Of course, it’s not surprising when one thinks about the financial gain the university gets from reopening the union, which they do not get from the library. Once again, it makes students feel like a pawn in a money-making scheme, especially upsetting when considering how so many students already pay a lot of money to study here in the first place. Furthermore, students highlighted that it made no sense to have “entire sections of seating and desk space closed off ‘for Covid reasons’ because that simply concentrates all users into a tighter area”. 

How can the university expect the top academic performance that it prides itself on, without giving students places to do the much-needed work required for such performance? Such a failing is even more shocking when you look nationally, as most other universities have their libraries open. 

Frankly, the situation is best summed up by a quote from the petition: “The university’s handling of the main library has been extremely disappointing.” 

If you would like to sign the petition, please click on this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdYbc3thUS6P8w4A_v4ci9TA4CugdGZvXq78Wh57Ug0w5NVmQ/viewform?usp=send_form

Thanks to Ruby Dunn for the petition and for sharing some of the figures and comments! 

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