Learning Zone, Not Eating Zone: the Fallout!

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Opposition to the decision to restrict areas in which food consumption is permitted in the Learning Zone is based on a cultivated practice of students combining study with snacking, rather than any official permission, according to Library management.

Following the restriction of food-consumption to a small cordoned-off section at the north end of the building, a motion detailing the changes and the opposition to them was put forward by student Holley Goodban for discussion at the LUSU General Meeting on October 8th.

This motion demanded that the Vice President for Academic Affairs, Richard Clark, lobby the Library, which holds responsibility for the management of the Learning Zone, to revoke the policy and “return the Learning Zone to the environment it was designed to be”. However, as the necessary number of students for quorate level was not reached, no motions could be discussed and the issue was duly deferred to be discussed at the Union Council in Week Two.

In a prior discussion with Head Librarian Clare Powne, it was made clear that the Learning Zone was never intended as an environment in which staff and students could simply bring and eat food, but rather as a more relaxed working environment in which collaborative and social study could more easily be facilitated.

During the discussion at Union Council, the JCR President of Cartmel College, Joel Pullan, argued that by moving the focus of the Learning Zone’s function away from the provision of snacking-space, the Library was in fact returning the area to its intended purpose.

As far back as March, measures were implemented to discourage staff and students alike from eating in the Learning Zone. This followed a meeting of the Learning Zone Steering Group in which it was agreed that litter and mess had become a problem, and that with a dedicated eating area adjacent to the Learning Zone planned alongside the new Subway outlet, it would be appropriate to discourage all eating in the Learning Zone. Students are represented on the Steering Group by the LUSU VP for Academic Affairs, a position held at the time by Alex Carlin.

On the Information Systems Service (ISS) web-pages, a ‘Code of Use’ dating back to September 2010 stipulates that “non-alcoholic cold drinks are permitted, however the consumption of food is not permitted”. Though ISS have since ceased to manage the Learning Zone, the document remains accessible on the University’s website.

However, there is another ‘Code of Use’ – identical to notices displayed throughout the building itself – which stipulates that cold food is permitted. This discrepancy may have been a contributing factor to the café-culture, in which students feel free to use the space solely for eating, and eating all types of hot and cold foods – that has developed unofficially and gradually to become ingrained within the learning space. Powne has now resolved to notify ISS of the online information error and have the erroneous document removed from the site.

As mentioned above, there is to be a dedicated area for students to take and eat their food on campus. This is scheduled for completion in conjunction with the opening of Subway. However, with this opening delayed until the beginning of next term, the provision of space for eating in the Learning Zone will remain in place until the alternative space is available.

The message from the Library is clear: students have provided feedback indicating that they do not wish to work in an environment in which litter and mess – most commonly caused by food consumption – are a problem. Therefore, the decision has been made to regulate the areas in which food may be eaten. Speaking in response to this assertion, third-year student and ISS-employee Helen Bull pointed out that during the time when the Learning Zone came under the remit of the Information Systems Service, part of employees’ job-descriptions was to maintain the environment as litter-free and conducive to study. Students in attendance at the Council were left to draw their own conclusions as to why the litter-issue may have reared its head at this present time.

In an attempt to refute the allegation made in the motion to the Union Council which criticised the Library and its decision-making process for failing to consult the student body over the policy, Powne explained that the move to restrict the eating area was actually done in response to substantial student feedback which highlighted service users’ wishes not to be surrounded by a canteen-style environment.

In response to this, students at the Union Council made clear the distinction between active and passive consultation, maintaining that the latter will not yield a fair representation of student opinion and that, in order to properly canvass students’ wishes regarding their learning spaces, a period of active consultation should have been undertaken by those in charge of the Learning Zone before any decision was made and implemented. The motion proposed by Goodban was amended to make this distinction explicit, so that the Union’s Vice President (Academic) Richard Clark, who is mandated to lobby the University on this issue, can now take this investigation forward.

It appears that, once again, a lack of communication and confusion around officially-sanctioned rules are key factors in causing student unrest and dissatisfaction. Whatever misinformation and whichever crossed purposes may have led to the café-culture hitherto prevalent in the Learning Zone, from now on there is a new strategy in place to maintain the facility as an environment conducive to study. Powne further added that this purpose is clear: “It is not a common room. Its name represents what it is for, and we hope to maintain it as the excellent learning facility students tell us they want it to be.”

Assessing the wider picture, LUSU President Ste Smith stated that the real issue at hand was the need for 24-hour access to library facilities, which would ensure that provision for quiet study would always be in place. Smith maintained that the localised banning of food-consumption, apparently in response to students’ study-needs, was a result of the larger problem of the need for extended library access.

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