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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