17 per cent capacity and reduced opening times among new AU library restrictions

Prepare for a term of studying at home, the SDR only lets in 170 students!

All three of Aberdeen University’s libraries have had their opening times and maximum capacity of students drastically cut during the pandemic. At any given point, only 170 students are allowed in the SDR, 130 in the Taylor Library, and 75 in the Medical Library.

According to Simon Bains, Head of Library Services, the libraries are currently running at 20-25 per cent of their normal capacities, a national average for uni libraries. The SDR is only at 17 per cent, but Simon feels “fairly confident” that they will be able to raise the capacity from 170 to 200 after a re-evaluation. These 30 spaces will come from the silent study rooms, which are currently still closed to “not stretch the cleaning staff”.

In the SDR and the Taylor Library the security gates at the entrance will register the number of people in the library and stop admission once the limit has been reached. There will be “a small amount of space for queueing” in the SDR, but not in Taylor. Both libraries have a live online system showing the current occupancy, so students can check ahead of time if they may not get in.

In the Medical Library the capacity will be shown at the entrance via a “traffic light system”, where a green light indicates free spaces and a red light means it’s full. The Medical Library does not have an online occupancy system, because it doesn’t have security gates.

Students will not have a time limit in any of the libraries, because “it wasn’t clear if we’d need it”. Particularly with face masks being a legal requirement in all libraries, it’s deemed that students are “less likely to stay all day”, but the libraries might still “introduce a booking system if necessary”.

The SDR has suffered the least regarding opening times. It’s open during the week from 9am to 8pm, and at weekends from 1pm to 5pm. Law and Medicine students are less lucky. This is because the University has put all hiring of new staff members on hold during the pandemic, and it was deemed more important for the Taylor and Medical libraries to “be open in the evenings on weekdays, rather than on the weekends”. The Library Services are working on getting a “special case” approved by the university so they can hire more staff members and expand opening hours.

Reduced capacities, opening times, and mandatory face masks aren’t the only things that have changed in the libraries. There are disinfection wipes available to wipe down desks and computers after use, and no food or drink except bottled water is allowed. The lifts can only be used by one person at a time, and there’s a one way system in place throughout.

According to the uni website, a click and collect service if offered for all three libraries, but you can only request books that are not currently on loan, and books from the Taylor and Medical Library “may take a little longer to provide” because they must be brought to the collection point in the SDR. On top of that, returned books must “be placed in quarantine” for 72 hours before they can be put back on the shelf again.

The university is providing a lot of additional study spaces, like bookable study rooms, but Simon says they are struggling to “get the information out there” so students know what their options are. Even with additional study spaces, it looks like students will have to get used to studying at home this year.