In which I rant about 24 Hour Opening…

Yesterday morning I had to deal with a student who was very unhappy that his 1 litre carton of fruit juice had been thrown away by one of the cleaners. He was upset because it was expensive and untouched and he’d “only left it for a minute” while he went to clean his teeth in the toilets.  Now, the cleaner was not in the wrong here because she had no idea how long the juice had been there when she found it and our library is routinely awash with litter in the mornings during exam season*, so she did the right thing. The reason this incident stuck with me is a. the teeth cleaning part and b. the fact that the reason he was so annoyed was obviously that he was knackered. Welcome to exam season and 24 hour opening, the silly season starts here!

Although, to be fair, our 24 hour opening runs from October to June and breaks only at Christmas and Easter but it’s still generally quite quiet outside of exam periods. We’re open 24 hours from Sunday to Thursday, so we’re not open Friday and Saturday nights, thank goodness. And if I had my way we wouldn’t do it at all, because I really don’t think it encourages a healthy lifestyle, good revision, or sensible studying.

Take my guy yesterday morning, I know him quite well and it’s entirely likely that he hasn’t really left the Library since Sunday, unless he’s had to take an exam. He’s got his toothbrush in his bag, for goodness sake, this is a man who is not planning on going home anytime soon. And there’s lots more like him. Last year at our other library that has 24 hour opening, caretakers found toiletries bags hidden behind the ceiling panels in the toilets. I firmly believe that if we were to open over Friday and Saturday nights, as students pressure us to do every year, we would have a small minority of students who would try to get by without renting student accommodation and would simply split their time between the Library and their friends sofas. It sounds ridiculous, but these were among the concerns that SOAS had when they abandoned 24 hour opening after trialling it for a few years (with the full support of their Student Union, I might add). I’ve also heard rumours of such shenanigans in one of the UEL libraries.

It isn’t healthy for students to spend half of their week living in the library, but that is the unavoidable consequence of providing 24 hour opening. Today’s students are under a vast amount of pressure, most have to work while they study, all of them want to get a good degree and most are well aware that they’re going to be flung into the midst of a recession once they graduate. I can completely understand why students are therefore demanding that library facilities be available 24/7 as they have to find ways of making study fit into their lives. We’re under a great deal of pressure to provide students with what they want, especially in this era of rising fees and the sodding NSS. But we can’t be all things to all people and there are serious practicalities involved here. We can’t provide showers, I doubt there are many libraries that can. We can’t provide comfortable places to sleep and in fact, our regulations state that students can’t sleep in the Library and staff will wake up any students they find sleeping in case they have fallen ill**. I know this isn’t true of all libraries and I’ve even heard of some that will give out blankets to students studying overnight (Exeter, anyone?) but still, having a two-hour kip with your head resting on your keyboard is not exactly good exam preparation, is it? We can’t provide a decent breakfast, unless your idea of a decent breakfast is a day old sandwich from the vending machine (and even then, we’re in the minority of libraries that allow students to bring food in or buy it in the library, there’s plenty of libraries that don’t) and there’s no guarantee that there’s anywhere else on campus that can either, or that students can afford it.***

I remember when I was doing my A levels that there was a lot of emphasis placed on sensible preparation for exams; not cramming, taking breaks, having a good night’s sleep the night before. We don’t seem to talk about this anymore once students reach University level, but I would argue that they need it just as much if not more as many are now away from the support of their families. Surely we should be saying somehow, somewhere that spending the 48 hours prior to your exam cramming in the Library, leaving only briefly to have a smoke, is not necessarily going to do you any good in the actual exam?

That’s if they’re even cramming at all anyway; reports from the Night Team suggest that these some of these students spend quite a lot of time streaming films on the PCs or hanging out in the café with their mates. It’s as if they’re under the impression that merely being in the Library will help them absorb knowledge, presumably by some sort of osmosis. Allowing them to remain in the Library for days at a time lets this type of student develop a false sense of study; it’s alright for them to catch up with Eastenders now because they’re already in the Library and they’ll do some revision afterwards, right? Then; it’s alright for them to spend an hour chatting to their mates because they’re in the Library and they’ll do their group presentation afterwards, yeah? Before they know it, 24 hours as gone by and they’ve not managed to do much at all. These are also the students that we see descending on the Library the night before their coursework deadline en masse; they’ve put everything off till the last-minute but it’s alright, the Library’s open and they can just spend the entire night hammering out 2500 words before morning. Oddly enough, they always seem surprised when the rest of their classmates have the same idea and the printers crash under the strain…

So what would I prefer? I don’t really know, I haven’t been in the sector long enough to really know the best way to proceed. It seems to me that having opening hours of 8am to midnight (and running a staffed service, not using Security, during those opening hours it at all possible) would provide a service that catered to as many students as possible, but would also encourage them to plan their work and revision better. I know that closing at midnight wouldn’t necessarily make students go home and go to bed before their exams, but at least it wouldn’t feel quite so much like our responsibility if they didn’t.

If anyone knows of a University that’s doing something different or interesting with their opening hours, please let me know in the comments. Also feel free to have a rant about how annoying exam season is at your institution; I’ll be sure to commiserate with you!

*rant to come, believe me!

** This has led to some “entertaining” incidents of students barricading themselves in rooms to have a nap, bless.

***don’t get me started on the ridiculous prices charged for food on university campuses.


20 thoughts on “In which I rant about 24 Hour Opening…

  1. I’m currently studying for my Librarianship degree at Sheffield University. The Information Commons here is open 24/7, 365 days a year. And has showers. I completely agree with you, having all this set up for students gives them the message that the university thinks it’s ok for (even encourages?) students to spend all night studying.

    The student newspaper even ran a story last year where a student spent a week solid in the library. I just think it’s so unhealthy!

    • I’ve read about the Information Commons, fancy being open on Christmas Day! I imagine it’s minimally staffed out of hours? I think that’s another aspect of the problem with buildings open 24 hours with only minimal security staff – that makes for a very lonely atmosphere sometimes which can’t be healthy for student either.

      • Fellow student of Ruth’s – I’ll add that the IC smells absolutely awful at the moment. Luckily I have no reason to go in there again until September!

        I’ve also heard that a few years ago an international student was found living in the IC – no idea if this is true or not though!

        At Leeds University Library they ran a trial of 24 hour opening and found that not many people were in the building after about midnight. Yet the students still request it. I’m not sure what the answer is either, but I do think library staff presence at all hours would help.

  2. I remember hearing about a university library where if security/porters found a student in the library three nights in a row, their card would be blocked for 24 hours in an attempt to force them to take a break. I can’t for the life of me remember which library this was though!

    I think there’s no win-win situation, we close between 1.45am and 7am, but our students are constantly pushing for 24 hour access.

    • That’s an interesting idea, but I would argue that three nights is still too long and would do it at two! But you’re right, it’s a really tough situation as many people seem to think we should try and give students what they want, where possible. This is why I think SOAS is an interesting case as they did do 24 hour opening for a couple of years but then stopped because it was encouraging bad habits and they were having problems with security etc., and their Student Union supported them.

  3. My library is open 24 hours during exam periods (8am- midnight otherwise), which is right now. There’s a myriad of problems beyond the simple messiness and the smells (oh the smells, we hate the smells). The printing system is buckling under the strain. The water pressure in one side of the building couldn’t cope so we had to close half the toilets for 12 hours (no pressure = no water = no flushing = urk). The group rooms have all been booked early on by the same groups of students; I think they’ve moved in there for the duration. I’m not convinced that they’re studying all night, rather, someone is staying overnight in order to keep the room. Not really how we intended the rooms to be used.

    Now, I’m typically a last-minute kind of person when it comes to writing assignments, but I wouldn’t want to stay in the library 24 hours. It’s a terrible way to study!

    • We’ve had similar problems with our printers and we now lock our group study rooms overnight after they were vandalised last year (they wanted to move a table into another room and in order to do so they cut, actually CUT the cables for the equipment which is fastened to the desk.)

      I’m with you; I always left my work till the last minute, but I’d always prefer to curl up at home with my laptop then rock up to the Library with 4 pack of red bull and 5 mates!

      • Locking the group rooms is an idea worth considering, they’re not bookable from 7pm to 10am anyway.

        The students are behaving well on the whole, especially in the silent areas, although the group study floor has gone a bit Lord of the Flies (I say that having only peeked from a distance, I’m not going in there 😉

  4. We’re always open 24 hours and, yes, we have cushions (no blankets!–but that’s quite a good idea) for students, as well as two window ‘beds’ where they can sleep if they want. And we do get people who are overly stressed or worried, and seem to rarely leave the library–the students egg each other on to study harder and for longer, they’re encouraged to do so by their tutors (Cambridge isn’t supposed to be easy, apparently *rolls eyes*) and the tension sometimes in the library is palpable.

    We do our best to make sure that we drum good revision styles into them. We leave bookmarks all over the desks with revision advice (including relaxing!) and details of people they can speak to if it’s getting too much. We provide free cakes or donuts every weekday afternoon to encourage them to stand outside for a bit and have a laugh, and we try to keep a close eye on them to make sure no one’s really hit the wall. But they do, all the time. And trying to prevent it from happening feels like a losing battle, as well as a heck load of responsibility.

    • Free cakes? I want to come and study in your Library! Except I don’t want to do the actual studying part… Your Library sounds really friendly, I assume you’re one of the college libraries? It’s really nice that you can do all of that for your students, we sadly couldn’t manage it for ours as we usually have headcounts of over 500 in during exam periods and we just can’t keep an eye on that many of them. Even overnight it’s usually 100-150. The numbers are just too high.

      I think the responsibility part is the interesting bit, because most librarians I’ve come across are very caring people and can’t help worrying about our students, but this level of responsibility was not really in our job description!

      (I have to ask, who pays for the cakes?!)

  5. I often wonder why some students expect libraries to be open 24/7, to provide showers, beds, and food… And yet refuse to just study in their dorms, where they have access to all of those things. You’re right that there seems to be a belief that the library building itself somehow imparts knowledge.

    • At our institution, and lots of other urban Universities, we have a high level of students who don’t live in University accommodation but stay at home with their families while studying. And lots of those students are from big families, or are mature students trying to raise families as well, and they don’t necessarily have the space or quiet at home to be able to study there. But, saying that, it’s rarely those students who are in the Library at 4:30am…

  6. Apparently, apart from the water systems being overwhelmed, we’re doing ok, although our overnight numbers are bonkers: 1000 compared to 150 on a normal night. No wonder it’s busy, messy and smelly. Cleaners are doing a wonderful job just to keep up.

    • Wow, you definitely have it worse than us, I just totted up our headcounts from last night and the highest was 255 at 10:30am, drifting down to 90 at 5:30am. The building management side of it was one I neglected to touch on, but the cost of cleaning, heating and lighting a building 24/7 is a significant factor, especially when a lot of UK university libraries are not brand new, state of the art facilities.

      Only a few more weeks to go!

      • Those numbers are from the gate, so it might be that the students here overnight simply go out and come back in again more often, but that’s still a LOT of people. Some students locked themselves in the group rooms last night so they could sleep in there, but the site manager unlocked the doors during his morning rounds and woke them up this morning. Apparently we are meant to wake students when they’re asleep, at any time, but if they’re not in the way, I might just let them be (although if they look ill, I would investigate further, I think).

        Surely the point of 24 hour opening is for the studying, not so they can be first in the group rooms / on the computers / in the printer queue / for the reference books in the morning.

        Yes, two more weeks then we go back to normal!

  7. At Trinity, we used to open 9am-midnight during the regular term time, but during the exam term we would extend the hours from 8am to 2am. We did receive some complaints about not providing 24-hour opening, but the College’s viewpoint was that sleep was essential too, and students had to be encouraged to go home for at least part of the night. Additionally, the night cover was provided by a lone postgrad (often me!), and I suspect there may have been issues with lone working and temporary members of staff.

    Our biggest problem was that people would still try to move in for the duration: we had relatively few desks (maybe about 50 seats in the reading room, and 10 or so in the lower library), and most of these would immediately be covered by files, books, cushions, duvets etc and then promptly abandonned, as the student decided that leaving their stuff in the library would let the osmosis work well enough. We had to get pretty strict about clearing desks at the end of the day, but even then it was hard to keep on top of.

  8. Pingback: 24 Hour Opening – Some Thoughts | Kangarooth

  9. This is a really interesting post.

    I used to work the 7-12am shift at the Uni of Lincoln library and hated that last hour; it was quiet and dark and bloody scary at times! The library opened occasionally for 24 hours but the numbers just weren’t worth it in the long run. There was just a handful of students using it between 12-6am. And it would often be the same students too; those who were super-duper-over-dedicated! Lincoln’s campus definitely doesn’t support 24 hour opening either; the SU bar/nightclub is next to the Library and the foyer of the Library is a huge empty cavernous space where any noise travels up to the ‘quiet’ floor. I used to have to be drunk monitor between 7-12 so I dread to think what the security staff had to put up with during 24 hour opening!

    • Thank you 🙂 Low numbers is a common problem it seems; we used to run Night Opening from November to June but there was a lot of demand to start earlier. Now we start in October, but the headcounts overnight are very low that month and there’s often no one in after 2am until about 7am, so why all the demand? It seems that an awful lot of students don’t actually need to use Night Opening but want to know that it’s there, just in case. Which would be fine except for the cost of running the building and paying staff when there’s no one in there!

      We’re lucky in that our site is about 20 minutes out of the town centre, so we don’t have many problems with drinking, I’ve only heard of one incident of students trying to sneak alcohol in and never of any drunk people. Our town centre site probably has a different perspective though!

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