During the two-hour debate, many topics were discussed including the inevitable subject of sushi in Bedford library and the college’s official position on the Senate House Library proposals.
The panel was most notably split on the idea of allowing 24-hour access to the libraries. Adam Cadoo claimed that students needed ‘full reign’ over access to the facilities, but Geoff Ward suggested that if students ‘were sitting in the library at 2am every night…it [would be] dangerous to your health.’ The Vice-Principal went on to say ‘there may be an assumption that we expected students to work all hours. Students need to work, yes, but students need to sleep, too.’
Arguably the most outspoken critic of the night was a Ph.D student, who reiterated a strong feeling of discontent among the postgraduate students. He claimed there was ‘nothing but dissatisfaction’ from his colleagues regarding access to ‘the most basic of resources’. He tried to persuade the panel to invest in assets beyond the ‘three-year cycle’ of undergraduates and towards ‘those of us who have been here a bit longer’, avoiding the short-sightedness of the current development system.
Indirectly responding to the criticism of the postgraduate contingent, John Tuck echoed the entire panel’s commitment to researching new ways of delivering content to students on-demand via Moodle and developing other online proposals, pledging £50 000 in addition to the £1.2 million general information provision. Of note, Mr. Tuck mentioned there are over 1700 e-books currently provided by Royal Holloway’s libraries.
Giving an outline of the current vision of the refurbished Bedford Library, Geoff Ward noted the college had tried to ‘pay heed to modern ideas, without compromising traditional values’. Mr Ward stated there was ‘a running programme of improvement’ for the much-noted lack of disabled access to Founder’s.
John Tuck thought the new social learning area was ‘a magnificent product…creating a place where learning and research can take place around coffee and conversation’. However, if students disliked the new catering facilities, in particular the sushi bar, Geoff Ward urged students to ‘spurn it’.
When asked if there were any plans to merge the two existing libraries, the Vice-Principal pledged to keep developing Founder’s Library and Bedford Library in parallel. He commented that there were ‘two distinct, separate identities which need to be maintained, and there was no plan to morph one into the other, or vice versa.’
The importance of libraries was reinforced by statistical data provided by Adam Cadoo, with only 19.2% of students ‘strongly agreeing’ with the statement ‘there is adequate provision in the libraries’. It was noted that these results were lower than nine other 1994 Group respondents.
In light of the speculation surrounding the future of Senate House, the University of London Library in central London, the College’s representatives on the panel stated they were involved in the ongoing redevelopment process. Earlier this year, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), announced its decision to remove much of the special funding of Senate House Library’s revenue, following a review of national research libraries.
HEFCE also concluded that the future of Senate House Library should be determined by the colleges of the University of London. This review is currently being undertaken by an independent consultant and will be overseen by a Steering Group drawn from across the colleges. Royal Holloway students are among the top six Senate House library users and the college contributes to the library’s catalogue.
Geoff Ward gave an insight to Royal Holloway’s preference for the current Senate House bids by stating that UCL’s proposal ‘generated concern over the openness for all students in the long-term’ and that it was disappointing to see ‘a weakening of the bonds within the University of London as a whole’.
Not all students were appeased by the debate, with one undergraduate in attendance calling for an overhaul of the ‘inadequate and shockingly outdated’ way in which the college was conducting its review of library services. The student also called on Adam Cadoo and the Student’s Union as a whole to elect Library Representatives to maintain a constant line of communication with academic faculties and senior college representatives.
Geoff Ward summarised the aim of a constantly relevant library: ‘We arrive at the university as it is and we must make sure we leave it in good stead for those after us. Our primary goal is to secure the future.’