Comment Writer Jonny Isaacs reflects on mental health and race in the wake of recent mass shootingsWritten by Jonny Isaacs on 22nd November 2017
Only You Can Save the Library
Comment Editor Alex Cirant-Taljaard points out the new library's issues can be simply fixed by student etiquette
Before I started at the University of Birmingham, I did very little actual research into the university itself. However, while I knew almost nothing about the campus, the staff or in fact the course I was taking, I did know about the newly constructed library which would be ready just in time for my first year.
I felt incredibly privileged, as I’m sure many did, at the thought of being able to study whenever I wanted and in great comfort at a state of the art learning facility. I think it’s safe to say the reality of the situation didn’t quite match up to what I had imagined.
“The library greeted me with a sea of anxious faces and filled seats
Rather than being an educational El Dorado, with great facilities and the capacity to contain however many students needed to study, instead the library greeted me with a sea of anxious faces and filled seats. I would have taken to Twitter to vent my frustrations but unfortunately the Wi-Fi wasn’t working.
However, that was in the distant and murky past of 2016. Now we’re in the future, and one hopes that things will have improved. It is important, I think, to understand the issues the library had in the first place, so that we can make sure that going forward, it lives up to expectations.
At first glance, one would assume the library's problem was real estate. Too many students, not enough seating. If this were the case, then all hope would be lost. It’s not like we can build an extension on the library, and even if we could the university is already pumping all of its resources into the Green Heart anyway.
“So why does it seem like there are never any seats, when in reality the library never even reached capacity?
However, after doing some sleuthing, I found out this wasn’t the case. Official library figures, which are gathered both in physical surveys and also using the swiping in system, show that the highest library occupancy last year was 1572, on November the 7th. This is 246 shy of the library’s 1818-person capacity. These figures would suggest that when I was roaming the corridors of the library, I failed the notice the nearly 250 available seats.
So why does it seem like there are never any seats, when in reality the library never even reached capacity? I’m not the only one asking this question, as I learned when I spoke with two members of Library Services, Andy Dodds and Claire Browne. They too had wondered why they couldn’t see any seating when the figures clearly showed the opposite. What they had determined was that it had a lot to do with the type of seating on offer. The figure of 1818 isn’t just conventional seats and desks, it also includes sofas and pod chairs. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it hard to get into an analytical mindset while sitting soft. Furthermore, the sofas do not have clearly defined boundaries, with many being taken up by one student when multiple students could be sitting there.
This brings me to an important point. Andy, Claire and the whole Library Services team, along with Guild President Ellie Keiller, have been working hard to give us better seating, by removing sofas and replacing them with conventional desks, and an extra 132 permanent seats have been added.
“I don’t want to be walking around the library looking for seats this year and find people saving seats with their bags, or hogging entire private study rooms
Furthermore, the Wi-Fi has been overhauled and, so far, I’ve got no complaints. But that will not solve all of the library's problems. In order for the library to become somewhere that works for everyone, we as students need to start taking responsibility. I don’t want to be walking around the library looking for seats this year and find people saving seats with their bags, or hogging entire private study rooms for themselves. If you see someone clearly looking for somewhere to sit, invite them in, because most of those rooms have an 8-person capacity.
I think the University mishandled the opening of the new library in spectacular (and traditional) fashion, but since then things have been improving. What we need to do as a community is look at the changes we can make to make the library a better place.
Also please stop eating in the main library, I don’t want Dorito smudges over all the text books.