Library study spaces should not just be for the privileged

There is more than enough study space on campus; the problem is how it is being used. We have all seen desks left empty for several hours with just a water bottle or a scarf draped over the barren space, or computers which have long since logged out, littered with the debris of some absent student marking it a forbidden territory. There is plenty of space to go around: the problem is the students, not the desk space. We need to break down a culture which is obsessed with running in, grabbing selfishly then skipping off to Starbucks for the afternoon with no regard for other students.

Countless times I have removed another person’s junk from an annexed territory within the library only to have them appear sour faced an hour later demanding the return of ‘their’ spot. Whilst we already pin up regulations all over the place inside, these rules are clearly not being followed and this ends up privileging the habits of entitled space-grabbers over people who need a spot to work. In many other libraries, whether public or university, desk hoggers can expect to find their accumulated crap unceremoniously dumped in lost property should they leave it lying out for too long – I do not see why this is not something we could institute at the University of Edinburgh.

A lot of this comes down to the way in which privilege and confidence manifest in the learning environment and how this then lets individuals believe that their personal rights and convenience trumps that of those around them. When a student is sat fiddling around through Facebook on their MacBook Air, which they have decided needs to be operated at a desk with a computer on, they are blocking access for other students who might not have their own personal computer and so rely on the university facilities. Equally, when draping a jacket over a desk in the morning and then flouncing off for several hours, careless students are knowingly depriving others of learning resources with the express belief that their comfort comes first before the needs of others.

Just as in lectures and seminars, certain voices tend to dominate the space with their home-counties drawl; if you have overheard a booming conversation in the silent area it is likely to be resonating from a predictable voice box. This domination of space comes from a place of disregard for others and prioritisation of self, and a culture which prioritises the leisure time of the entitled and privileged. As a general rule, people who take up more space tend to hail from a pretty well off socioeconomic background. Whether this is manspreading on public transport, cutting queues with a life of priority passes, or dominating conversations with an insistence on the importance of their voice, privilege means getting to come first and feeling outraged when this is denied.

Shifting someone’s detritus from their desk and leaving it unceremoniously stacked in a corner will get you a glare and likely a rant, but it sends the message that their vain obsession with their self-prioritisation will not be tolerated. We need to start sending a message that all students on campus are equally deserving of access to resources, and that in the end this is better for us all. We need tutors to recognise when volume correlates with a vacuum between the ears and call out the peculiar demographic in favour of the quieter lot. Currently we have a culture that rewards privileged people when they bend or break the rules, such as a certain Etonian tax-dodger in the headlines, but shuns anyone from a “lower” background doing the same. I am not saying the only people hogging space and chatting loudly in silent areas are rahs, but there is a worrying correlation.

Image credit: Strevo

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11 Responses

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  1. Ylva Marie Longva
    May 13, 2016 - 02:12 PM

    “Countless times I have removed another person’s junk from an annexed territory within the library only to have them appear sour faced an hour later demanding the return of ‘their’ spot.” Well yes because you’re a twat for doing so!

    • Alex Henriquez (@henriquez012)
      May 13, 2016 - 03:38 PM

      He is not being a Twat for doing so. You are clearly taking this out of context. If you lock your computer, you have 30 mins to come back. However, if someone is going to take more than 30 mins, that is a clear indication that they do not need the space in the mean time. For which it is better to just leave and take their belongings with them instead of leaving them behind as ” a territorial mark”. In the meanwhile the studying space does not meet its purpose since it has been reduced to temporary shelf for someone’s belongings. I have struggled many times to find a space in the library and totally agree with the author. People should be more considered in that aspect. its not just a matter of education but also basic common sense 🙂

      • library curmudgeon
        May 13, 2016 - 04:56 PM

        If you want a seat in the library get there early enough. At times such as exam time when people are having to be in the library for 10 or so hours per day, having a break longer than 30 minutes for lunch is completely reasonable. I find it incredibly annoying when people don’t want to bother to wake up and get to the library and then expect to find a seat midway through the day.

        • Chris
          May 13, 2016 - 06:14 PM

          Your argument is nonsensical. As the author said, there would be plenty of space for everyone if 50% of the desks and PCs weren’t left unattended for the majority of the time. If you’re going for a long lunch, take your stuff. If everybody did that, there would be space when you got back.
          There are various commitments that could prevent an early arrival at the library – it is not a reasonable punishment to impose that students can’t study in the library for the remainder of the day.

          • library curmudgeon
            May 13, 2016 - 07:02 PM

            No, there wouldn’t be space. Most people go to the library for the whole day and spend the majority of that day at their desks working, so moving your stuff at lunch would just mean that you lose your seat for the rest of the day. And it’s ‘nonsensical’ to think that 50% of the desks are unattended for the majority of the time. I spend most of my week in the library and usually when it is full people will be sitting at their desks. The only time when there are a substantial number of desks unattended is at lunchtime, and, as I said, when you’re in the library from 8 in the morning until after 6 in the evening (as many people are around exam time) taking 45 minutes to an hour not glued to your desk isn’t unreasonable.

            Sure, there are various commitments that could stop people showing up early, but that means you just have to accept that you’re not going to get a seat and go to one of the other study spaces available. The library doesn’t have a seat for every single student in the university, so if you want to get one, you have to get there early.

            • Alex Henriquez (@henriquez012)
              May 14, 2016 - 03:41 PM

              I spend all day in the library on my day off work. and instead taking a 3 hour lunch in between i take 3 short breaks, less than 30 mins each before my computer logs me off. On those days I have seen people around me leaving their stuff for all afternoon, or all morning. some people coming at 8 am. putting their stuff and immediately leaving to return again around 1 pm. When I work, I arrive a the library around 3 pm. it is impossible to find a place, yet you see lots of empty desks occupied with stuff being left behind. Your argument is not valid, people need to Use and let use. simple.

              • library curmudgeon
                May 14, 2016 - 05:21 PM

                I never take a 3 hour lunch and honestly I don’t ever see people who do, and I’m here every day. There are sometimes people gone for a couple of hours and I agree that that is too long, but overall you are grossly exaggerating so as to make some sort of angry and unsubstantiated point. And I’ll usually only take one hour long break during the day (as do most people I know of), I don’t see how that’s any worse than taking three half-hour breaks.

                Anyway, it’s not really an issue right now. I’m in the library and half the desks are free, so everyone feel free to come and join!

        • Carla Harrison
          May 14, 2016 - 02:51 PM

          I was in the library a couple of weeks ago and a girl had left her desk for three hours! I am not even kidding. THREE! You cannot tell me they deserved that break AND the right to keep their desk all that time as I watched countless people look at her abandoned stuff and sigh in frustration. That was just selfish. And that is not an isolated incident.
          As for the comment about not getting up early to get a space well what if somebody had work before hand? What if they had a night shift? What if they were revising late at night the night before? What if they’re an insomniac who struggles endlessly trying to get to sleep, let alone waking up early? You have no idea why they have come to the library ‘too late’ so you have no right to say they just couldn’t be bothered. You should just respect that they have their schedule and you have yours and they can walk into that library whenever they want if what they have come to do is use the space to study.

          • library curmudgeon
            May 14, 2016 - 05:27 PM

            I never said people were entitled to three hour breaks. I said it’s reasonable for people to take a break slightly longer than half an hour. People taking breaks for half the day obviously shouldn’t leave their stuff there, but I don’t think that happens as often as people are making out. As you said, you only saw one girl do this.

            Also yes I know, I have a job that works night shifts and I also frequently have trouble sleeping. On those days I just accept I won’t get a seat. The problem is that you’re arguing that anyone should be able to walk into the library and get a seat whenever they want, but there aren’t enough seats in the library to make sure that every single student at the university can be here. The library opens at 7, so obviously if it’s a time of high demand for seats (deadline season, exam season) the seats are going to fill up early on, and most people tend to do a whole day in the library so that means there won’t be a high turnover of seats either. Saying that people should be able to get a study space if they need to won’t change the fact that there aren’t enough seats for the people that need them. A solution would be to have a study space in the university which doesn’t open until later in the day, for people who need to come in later, but unfortunately that doesn’t exist right now. I think the university are thinking of building a new student centre from what I’ve seen, though, so maybe that could be a suggestion.

    • Etienne Sharp
      May 16, 2016 - 06:39 PM

      Of course the author isn’t being ‘a twat’ and, incidentally, I’m not sure that there was any call for the insult.

      It’s entirely reasonable to remove the stuff of someone who has been logged out, although the subsidiary point regarding someone sitting at a PC and only using their laptop is equally valid. I tend to find myself writing at home these days meaning that I can’t utilise the HUB as too many people believe plonking a jacket down then pissing off for several hours is acceptable.

      I won’t start on those who believe that ‘Quiet Study’ means ‘let’s have a chat at only half volume in the mistaken belief that we can whisper’.

  2. Two degrees at U of E
    May 14, 2016 - 10:18 AM

    That is why I avoid the library at all costs. No need for added anxiety over potential study-space territorial disputes. Plus, the library smells so horrible, looks rundown and has incredibly poor ventilation that I don’t see it being worth catching everyone’s viruses they have brought from all over the world. I think the U of E is failing students spectacularly in providing study space that actually promotes how people actually need to work. Their obvious move to a more American style corporate venture of stacking ’em deep and teaching them cheap, is apparent in the design decisions and re-allocation of space over the last 5+ years of infrastructure changes on campus. This promotes competition among students for study space as they do not trust their will be what they need when they need it causing the territorial issues flagged up in the article and the reactions seen in the comments. It isn’t other students who are to blame here at the root of the problem. Their attitudes of prepare for potential scarcity at all costs is merely a symptom of the problem.


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