In case you missed it, at Monday’s Union Council VP Education, Shruti Verma and VP Welfare, Sam Bailey proposed a motion for the Union to hold a referendum on Hartley Library being open 24 hours a day. The motion passed.
As a result of this, the Union will hold a referendum on Friday 30th October. The following question will go to a general vote “Should Hartley Library be open 24 hours a day, year-round?” Students will be able to cast their vote online at www.susu.org/vote between 00:01 and 20:00. The result of the referendum will be announced on Friday night. The referendum is coming out of the democracy zone budget, and costing the Union, £2,100.
This comes in light of the University announcing the library will be open 24 hours a day, from 2nd November – 5th June. The decision was made without any consultation to students.
The Union has announced they are not opposing the increased opening hours, and all 7 sabbatical officers will remain neutral in the referendum. However, due to a lack of student consultation and a lack of welfare provisions from the University – they are holding a referendum to gauge student opinion.
The extra cost to the University caused by the extended opening hours is £84,000. While this seems like a huge amount, it’s roughly 0.021% of the University’s whole budget, or 3-4 students’ tuitions fees. However, clearly there is an opportunity cost which could have be spent elsewhere. However, the amount the University has offered to the Union, for welfare services such as the safety bus is £10,375. The Union believes they don’t have the staff to run an overnight safety bus service every night, and would have to use agency staff. In staffing costs alone (before petrol, insurance and other costs) this would cost a minimum of £120 a night. Library staff will not stay overnight, and the cafes will not be open. However, there will be access to vending machines and there will be three security staff working.
There are great arguments on both side of the referendum. Voting yes means students can have much better flexible working hours, which is especially useful for students on placement, it also means the University would be following the trend of many leading Universities in getting a 24-hour library. While, arguably this disproportionately favours students studying at Highfield, and those who study theoretical subjects (such as social science and humanities) as suppose to practical subjects (such as natural sciences). On the other side of the same coin, natural sciences, computer science and engineering have significantly more spent on them than humanities – so perhaps this is a step towards greater equality of spending across the University. There are also lots of reasons to vote no, the money could be spent elsewhere – such as on extending opening hours of other libraries (at the moment, Avenue library is only open 10pm-5pm at weekends). There’s also a welfare argument which suggest overnight opening encourages unhealthy working hours, and there aren’t currently sufficient safety provisions in place to support students getting to and from the Library. As well as this, hygiene and cleaning provisions will be needed.
At the moment, there are 10.3 students per seat at the University (across all of its libraries). Overcrowding is a problem, especially since the admission of extra freshers this year, since the government removed the cap on the number of students the University could take in. Since the start of this year, there’s been an issue with overcrowding across all the University’s resources, such as students not getting a seat in lectures, and struggling for library spaces. While there are many merits of the library being open 24 hours, this is not a long-term solution to the University’s overcrowding issue – opening up more spaces on campus, such as the Murray building currently is – would be a better long term solution to the problem of overcrowding.
During the 24 hour trial period (during exams) last year, library usage after midnight, was 21% up on the equivalent examination period in 2013, according to the University reports. In addition to entry gate data, the University ran a web-based iSurvey of 861 participants (approximately 4% of the student body), from Monday 20 January – Sunday 2 February 2014. 89.2% of the respondents used primarily used Hartley. 4.1% used Winchester School of Art Library, 2% used Health Services Library at SGH, 1.9% used Avenue Campus Library, and 1.8% used the NOC library. Through out 24-hour trial period, total gate entry from 8.00 pm to 8.00 am through the period was 51,937.
However, in 2013, NSS survey 89% of Southampton said that the library met their needs. Only 13% of comments about the library were negative and only 10% of these were due to space.
The real elephant in the room with regard to this referendum is perhaps the fact that if the outcome is ‘no’ the University could go ahead with it anyway.
Vice President Welfare, Sam Bailey said:
This referendum is to allow every single student to decide what position the Union takes on the proposals for the 24-hour library. We don’t have a stance on this issue that could affect every single student at the University – it really is up to them to decide. We’re entirely student-led and it’s important that students have their chance to voice their opinions on things that affect their education and life at University.