I lock eyes with my opponent as we subtly pick up our pace. We both want the same thing, but only one can succeed. May the odds be ever in our favour. This may sound like a scene from the Hunger Games, but in reality it describes the race for a free library desk with which University of Glasgow students will be all too familiar. Despite promises from the University, the problem of overcrowding in the library has only worsened during my time on campus. In my first year it was a struggle to find a desk at exam time, but this now describes an average day in the library. Good luck getting a computer unless you arrive before sunrise; plug sockets are like gold dust; even a student who just wants a desk and a chair will often be consigned to an afternoon of temperature bingo in the annexe. That’s if they can find a seat at all. Students who commute from home or have work commitments that prevent them from arriving early may as well give up on the idea of library study.
The University assures us they are dealing with the problem. Renovations to the first and second levels of the library are ongoing, the SRC provide a list of pop up study spaces near exam time and social media campaigns discourage desk hogging. But none of these measures seem to alleviate the problem when the university takes in more and more students each year and fails to update facilities to accommodate them. As library staff respond to any complaint with assurances that the 150 extra desks provided by the refit will solve our woes, students are more sceptical. The University appears to be completely oblivious to the extent of the problem, which is perhaps understandable, with electronic turnstiles out of action for the duration of the last academic year, it’s not possible to put an exact number on the shortfall in services. Without cold hard numbers, it’s hard to make the University sit up and take notice.
Judging by the number of people wandering the floors of the library hoping to strike lucky and find a vacant desk, 150 study spaces will not even begin to address the problem. Posters dotted around the library discouraging desk hogging seem to have achieved nothing except turning students against each other. Students argue over the rightful occupant of a broken chair, never stopping to consider why they felt the need to reserve a desk in the first place.
For those of us studying courses in arts or social sciences, the problem with the library amounts to more than just a lack of desk space. These courses require us to read, and read widely. Required readings go far beyond the standard assigned course textbook and the library simply does not accommodate for this. The new high demand section on level 3 hasn’t proven to be any more effective than its predecessor, the short loan collection.
One of my assessments this semester involved a class discussion on a book which, as it turned out, was out of print. The library contained a total of two copies. Even a fluorescent short loan sticker wasn’t going to solve this problem. There is simply no way for a class of 50+ students to get hold of a copy in such a short space of time, let alone analyse the text in any depth. This is an extreme example, but it is a familiar story to any student who has ever had to stalk the library short loan section awaiting the return of that vital book for their essay or seminar.
Those of us in the later years of our degree have spent watched the University spend money on superficial improvements. We suffered disruption as the library was clad with panelling in the name of modernisation and a more attractive prospectus photo. Meanwhile services affecting the day to day lives of students continued to be cut back.
The situation is only set to worsen as work begins on the massive campus redevelopment. Talk of the next generation will dominate, but what about current students? In an age of increasing marketisation of education, the University of Glasgow sold itself to us with promises of a world class education and a unique student experience. As it stands, it is failing to deliver.
It would be unreasonable of us to expect the University library to have space to accommodate all 25,000 students. It is expected that as the season of deadlines and exams approaches the library will become busier, but this is no longer a problem confined to exam season. When the library is at capacity on an average mid semester weekday, it becomes obvious that we have a serious problem with overcrowding.
Alternative study spaces such as computer labs or the union buildings often lack the facilities needed by students. Our study needs are more complex than ever and the library is the only space on campus where you are guaranteed to find all that you need; long opening hours, internet connection, plug sockets, computers, books, printing facilities and a quiet environment.
The library is at the centre of student life and it’s arguably the most important service on campus but it’s woefully unfit for purpose. It’s time for the University to acknowledge this and provide for the needs of the students of today.