News Analysis: Opening Up Education

Despite the considerable efforts of the Students’ Union, the extent of the increase in the UCD Library’s opening hours remains in doubt, writes Katie Hughes

It goes without saying that the library is crucial even to the most reluctant of university students. Many students will tell you that the only place they can settle into a study session is in the library. One would assume that it would be available to students for the majority of the day, seven days a week, especially given that UCD has in the region of 22,000 students, from undergraduate to doctoral level.

A 24-hour study area was set up for a trial period before last December’s exams. UCDSU Education Officer James Williamson says that this will be re-established in the new student centre which is due to be completed in August 2011.

The reasoning behind this, as opposed to merely keeping the main libraries open 24/7, is that it is the only place available on campus with the facilities for the study area – facilities that include toilets, security, wireless internet and space.

Yet a difference must be drawn between a study area and the library – it essentially comes down to one thing – books. It’s well and good to have a study area open 24 hours a day, but use of books that are too expensive for students to buy are a major part of study and of library usage.

However, a study area fitted with an adequate wireless service is most definitely a step in the right direction. As any student with a laptop who has found themselves in the James Joyce library at a busy time – such as in the lead-up to exams – knows, internet service is painfully slow. However the downside is that, despite all of the discussion surrounding it, this 24-hour study area will not be available to students until September 2011.

Issues regarding library services have been an ongoing concern for the Students’ Union appearing in both the Presidential and Education Officer’s election manifestos last year, as well as previous year’s ones. It was even included in the manifesto of current UCD Students’ Union President, Paul Lynam, when he ran for Education Officer in 2008.

Hardly a surprise, but according to university officials, funding issues have been the main concern against the library being open for as many hours and days per week as students demand. The Students’ Union have tried to counteract the university’s concerns by putting forward a ‘seven-day library proposal’ based on their research on libraries from other universities and colleges.

This proposal outlines the current situation in UCD – that the library budget has been cut by approximately €2 million which saw the seven-day library present in 2008-2009 being cut by 16 hours to the barely six-day opening we see today.

A comparison was drawn in the Students’ Union proposal between UCD Library and that of Hull University in Yorkshire, England that has roughly the same number of students as UCD. It states that while the library in Hull University has only half the budget of UCD’s library, it is open 35 hours per week longer than the James Joyce.

So, according to the proposal, for every ten hours the James Joyce library is open, the University of Hull library – that caters to the same number of students with a budget of a mere €4,421,205 compared to UCD’s €9,233,000 – opens for 14 hours and 18 minutes.

The Students’ Union must be commended for the level of research carried out in compiling the report in their efforts thus far to rectify the contentious issue. Yet the 24-hour area is unlikely to implemented until September 2011, twelve months later than promised in Lynam’s election manifesto.

Additionally, given that the money has to be sourced from somewhere, the Students’ Union are planning on increasing Superfines to fund the area. Thus, as is the norm in UCD, where students gain a little, they lose a little in some other form.

Yet, as part of their proposal, the UCDSU is calling for student posts to be created in the library as is done in a variety of universities, including the one in Hull. In addition, they want unemployed graduates to be hired in the library under the Work Placement Scheme introduced by FÁS. They must be commended on this. Increased Superfines seem minor in comparison with increased employment for students and graduates.

Whether or not we will actually see a seven-day library in UCD anytime soon depends on the December 7th budget, according to Lynam, though “hard decisions have to be made”. However, there will be a push by the Students’ Union to keep the library open until midnight from Monday to Friday at least.

Clearly, it is UCDSU who are doing all the work on this issue. There has been little intervention on the matter from the university itself. This is unacceptable. In a centre of education, a library should be a major priority. Perhaps university officials need to wake up and realise this.