Over the past two years, students and staff will have noticed a substantial amount of marketing and branding in the library including ‘silence’, ‘quiet please’, ‘No Card No Entry’, and ‘CSI: Coffee Stain Investigation’. These campaigns are largely the efforts of the assistant director of the library, Ewan McCubbin.
After interviewing Mr McCubbin last week, I quickly realised that these campaigns were not in fact set out to harshly reprimand library users, but were actually efforts to accommodate user desires while balancing them with the requests of Estates and the University administration. In the spring of 2013, because of the serious problems being caused by spills from hot drinks and the impact on cleaning, staff from Estates asked the library to outright ban hot drinks on levels three and four.
However, largely due to the lobbying efforts of Mr McCubbin, the library initiated a public campaign to increase awareness about the stain issue. In response to the library’s now famous ‘CSI: Coffee Stain Investigation’ campaign, many students said that they felt belittled or even insulted by the displays and signage. “They are a tad overdramatic,” Mr McCubbin said in response to his strongest critics.
He was also quick to point out that for every negative response, he has received countless responses thanking the library staff for their new messaging and, most importantly, not banning coffee altogether. St Andrews is fairly unusual in that it allows cold food and all drinks into the Library. For example, the University of Aberdeen’s new library allows only bottled water. This semester library messaging has taken a lighter tone since most students are now well aware of the issue.
The average fine rates have not increased in at least fifteen years. Ideally there wouldn’t be any fines, but there needs to be a deterrent
One of the main areas of criticism recently has been library fines. As The Saint published on 3 October, the library collected £75,000 in fines this past year. Mr McCubbin made it clear that St Andrews’ fines were extremely low compared to other major university libraries. “The average fine rates have not increased in at least 15 years. Ideally there wouldn’t be any fines, but there needs to be a deterrent.”
He said that quite often students are the biggest advocates for higher fines when they need a book immediately, but it still has not been returned after many days overdue. Books needed for recall are £1 per day. While most students do return recalled books on time, Mr McCubbin commented that some students may see £1 a day as merely paying rent for a book they are still using.
Many university libraries use restricting borrowing or access privileges as a means to deter students from abusing return policies. He stressed that St Andrews has not considered these alternative deterrents. Additionally, library fines are put to good use through acquisitions, refurbishments, and donations twice a year. Tomorrow is this semester’s donation day with all library fines collected (up to £1,000) going to Book Aid International. If less than £1,000 in fines is paid, the library will guarantee the remainder of the £1,000. Second semester’s donation goes to RAG Week charities.
Despite much fanfare on social media, the 24-hour open library will not be returning for exams. Following the two trials last year, it was decided based upon security data that the low traffic did not warrant the high staff and utility costs associated with keeping the library open. Mr McCubbin believes that people really like the idea of a 24-hour library, especially students who are used to the concept from universities in London and the US, but in reality very few students were there from 2am until 8am.
Library open hours have increased by 10 per cent over the last three years and 55 per cent over the last nine. This increase has substantially improved student satisfaction with the library. More students are using the library as a social learning space to meet in groups or with partners and not just for borrowing books or studying. This year the library is looking at opening at 9am on weekends and will be open from 8am until 2am throughout the revision and exam period.
Furthermore, the library has increased its open hours during vacation periods by 49 per cent in the last two years. This is largely to accommodate graduate students who do not travel anywhere during the breaks and need to continue their research.
The library is the same size now as it was in the 1970s when the University only had 3,000 students.
The demand for study space in the library continues to be a major issue. Past expansion proposals, which would have alleviated space constraints, have all been rejected or come up short on funding. The current library was the first phase of a three-phase library project, but the other two phases were never built. Therefore, the library is the same size now as it was in the 1970s when the University only had 3,000 students.
About half of the library’s collections are not on public display, but in storage in order to make more space for study areas. Since the refurbishment more than 400 new study spaces have been added. However, with 900 people in the library at peak times and 6,000 to 7,000 entries per day, the library is still grossly exceeding its capacity.
Making the problem even worse is the fact that at any given time dozens of study areas are being reserved for hours by library users that have left their places full of belongings to break for meals, classes, coffee or anything else.
Many students that have been ‘caught’ saving seats say that they did so because they were worried they would not find a seat upon their return. Due to this problem, the library, plagued by overcapacity problems, just got substantially smaller.
Last semester the library conducted a survery to get students’ opinions on how to fix the problem. The results were a bit surprising: approximately half of students said reserving seats was ridiculous and infuriating; however, the other half of users said that it was just a reality and that the library should not do anything about it.
Since students still complain about overcrowding and ‘seat hogging’, library staff are placing notices to remind students to take their belongings with them when they leave. At this time though, the library does not remove students’ work, books, or computers to make room for others.
Currently Special Collections on the North Haugh is in a temporary facility. Their traffic has decreased significantly with their reading room being out of the way for most arts students that may otherwise have taken a few minutes to look at a special collections book before going back to their study spaces. Therefore, library directors have made it a priority to bring Special Collections back into the building for easier access to materials.
Library staff are currently working on plans to bring Special Collections back into the Main Library. This would involve significant upgrading of the storage facilities on Level 1 of the building in order that they were of the standard required for Special Collections materials. Ultimately, Library staff would also like to see a one level extension to the north of the building so that additional space for exhibition and teaching could be provided. This will not provide any additional general study space for students and there are no plans to build on top of such an extension even though, theoretically, this may be possible. Mr McCubbin stressed that such an extension was aspirational and its creation would be dependent on the necessary funds being raised.
As a last note, Mr McCubbin wanted to mention that library users need to realise writing in books is not permitted. He stressed, “It is not okay to write in books, even in pencil.” There have been very large costs associated with replacing defaced books over the last few years. So next time you want to write in your book, consider how it affects others.
Finally, the best way for the library to understand student and staff opinions is for you to use their comment cards or email staff. You can also use Twitter and Facebook. Rest assured Mr McCubbin will respond to any and all of your comments.
Some corrections have been made to a previous version of this article.
Photo: Maria Faciclione