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The Library have confirmed that they will trial 24 hour opening for the first time next term.
The trial period will run during the 2013 Exam Period, from Sunday 21st April through to Friday 14th June. The 24 hour opening will not run seven days a week, however. It will only apply five nights a week from Sunday through to Friday morning. This means that the Library will continue to close at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.
In addition, there will be no staff available during the overnight periods – a fully self-service operation will be in place.
In an email to all students, the Library have stated that a “full evaluation of the use and benefit” of the extended opening hours will take place once the trial period is over.
David Summers, the Deputy Librarian, told SCAN that this development had come in response both to feedback from students and to changing patterns of library usage. He feels this is an exciting development but in many ways it is a continuation of an established pattern of trialling and extending opening hours over the years. He said: “For us this is just the latest of several chapters. We have been gradually increasing our opening hours for more than a decade now. So for example, if you looked back a decade, the opening hours would be completely different from where they are now, I think it’s ten years ago since we started to extend [into] late nights and also to extend into weekends quite significantly. This year for example, for the first time, we extended Saturday and Sunday evenings until midnight.”
When asked why this change had taken so long, Summers pointed to the fact that the Library aims to respond to its users needs and that changes in usage have been gradual. He said: “Peak periods are changing. The peak period in this building ten years ago would have been around the middle of the day. It is now rather later than that. We are certainly very busy well into the evening. Also, obviously, the starting point for the University is that this is an expensive building to run, and we have to ensure we are cost-effective. Particularly given that there are alternative services available like the Learning Zone. If you want to put a crude measure on it, we wouldn’t want to be remaining open necessarily if the numbers could easily be accommodated within the Learning Zone”
Summers explained that, while the Library currently have no pre-conceived ideas of what success or failure might look like at the end of this trial period, usage will be monitored constantly to feed in to the review of the trial. He said: “We want to know at 3am, what people are doing. We imagine a high proportion at that time of year will be poring over notes and preparing for their exams, but we don’t know that for certain. They may be on Facebook, they may be Skype-ing home to the other side of the world. We need to see. We need to assess whether the activities students are engaged in during overnight periods are best addressed by the Library, or perhaps by other services.” This will be achieved, Summers said, by security patrols counting people and recording usage – but “not in an intrusive way. We will also be listening to feedback from students themselves.”
As for why the trial will operate on a 24/5 basis as opposed to 24/7, Summers felt that the demand simply is not there yet for late night opening on Fridays and Saturdays. He said: “Although the numbers here at 11pm on a Friday and Saturday night are bigger than they have been in the past, at the moment they wouldn’t justify keeping the building open after midnight. But the sort of numbers here on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night are much higher and the feedback we get from some of those leaving at midnight is that they would rather stay on in the Library.”
Richard Clark, current LUSU Vice President (Academic), sounded a cautious note, telling SCAN that “this is not the end.” He said: “Getting a 24 hour Library is something that LUSU as an organisation has wanted for years, so this year I commend the students who continued to make noise about the opening times and the University and Library staff who are willing to trial something that we have felt necessary to academic experience.”
“This is not the end though, students need to take this opportunity with both hands and use the Library to ensure its continuation in the future. We are in the middle of a big refurbishment which could change the way we learn. Making [the Library] 24 hours could be a step in the right direction.”
Summers also referred to the refurbishment, stating that the observations gained from the pilot will directly feed in to the plans. He said: “Over the next four years, there will be a big refurbishment of this building so, at the very least, what we learn from this pilot will feed in to informing that project, and what the priorities for the usage of space might be.”
Joe O’Neill, LUSU Vice President-elect (Education), is pleased with this trial but emphasises the need to maintain a focus on the protection of Library jobs. He told SCAN: “I’m delighted that the university have chosen to trial a 24 hour library – at long last. We’re one of an increasingly small number of universities without one and this is a culmination of over 10 years of fighting from LUSU to make this a reality. The next step is to prove conclusively that students will use and value this service going forward so that we can make it a 24/7 Library at Lancaster.”
He added: “Of course, though, we need to make sure that jobs are safeguarded as we do this and not allow the university to argue this as a case for fewer librarians and a more automated service.”
On staffing, Summers pointed to the fact that Library usage is changing and there is less of a need for constant high levels of staff. He told SCAN: “The reality is that libraries have changed massively in the last 10 years. The need for staff service is different these days. So for example, over the past couple of years, the students at this University have used e-books much more than they have borrowed books. We’ve got the figures to show that. Now obviously, electronic books are available wherever students are, and they are available 24/7, 365 days a year.. We don’t need to use our staff for issuing books any more, we can use them more creatively to ensure that students information needs are supported. For example, by providing interactive reading lists which are accessible from Moodle.”
He added: “We are seeing use of the traditional print services that would have needed staffing steadily going down. And the electronic services dramatically going up. So, unquestionably, there is less need for staffed services in the traditional sense. In many periods that we are open now, probably 50% of the times we are open now, there are no staffed services. And that is another thing that we have measured, there is very little call for them in those periods because people are doing different things.”