Making study social
Cosy revision spaces abound - at other universities
Photo courtesy of Jake Roslin
by Jake Roslin
Every time assessment season comes around, the Duncan Rice campers are out in force, bagging a prized desk space first thing in the morning. Yet even early in the semester it’s never particularly easy to find a seat in our main library, nor the only other self study venue on King’s campus, the Law library. And despite the proliferation of “social study” at other institutions - quiet, warm spaces with comfortable seats, tea and coffee-making facilities and long, if not 24/7, opening - our university still has nothing like this.
A recent report in The Guardian found university students study for longer hours than ever, but also in different ways. We’ve grown used to coffee shop culture and no longer necessarily want to sit upright at a desk in solitary silence. Having creature comforts on hand makes us more productive, and the concepts of napping in the library and having food delivered there have gone from urban myth, to frowned upon, to facilitated in just a few years.
The recent half-hearted conversion of the downstairs back of the SDRL (pictured) is a case in point. However architecturally awesome this building is, it’s not comfortable, with cold air and cafe clatter permeating the vastness of the atrium.
The university had correctly identified that the ground floor behind the museum had potential, but in placing rather sparse numbers of sofas and distinctly flimsy feeling chairs, and doing nothing to make the place cosy or warm (curtains and a mezzanine level perhaps?) an opportunity has been missed.
The only vaguely relaxing space in the whole Rice Cube is the 7th floor breakout room. While this was proudly shown off on at least my own Open Day, no one mentioned that much of the time it is being used or locked up ready for meetings, with no way of knowing if it’s even available for us mere mortals without trekking up to see for ourselves. As for the Law library, with its uncomfortable wooden benches, lack of PCs and endless rule and regulation signs, it truly serves as a relic from a bygone age.
Even worse is the lack of anywhere other than libraries for students to chill between lectures. Yes, there are computer rooms and, at the other extreme, noisy cafes, but good luck finding any of them open after tea time.
What there are not are common rooms. Even my sixth form had one of those - it was a bit run down but had plenty of sofas and you didn’t have to buy a drink to sit in it. What we need is a mix of different types of seating and tables, bean bags, pod type chairs, recliners, plenty of power and USB sockets, speedy WiFi, and hot and cold water - and no chance of being kicked out for a class or a building closing for the day. Somewhere to go in those gaps between lectures, or between classes and evening socials. And that lecture gap problem is acute at Aberdeen because many students, and practically all freshers, live a long hike from campus. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has gone home, forsaking a late afternoon lecture, purely for want of somewhere pleasant to hang out in the meantime.
The odd thing is, there isn’t a lack of spaces on campus, they’re just poorly utilised. The centrally located Butchart building is virtually unused except for exams twice a year in its sports hall. Large parts of the Crombie-Johnston halls complex, including Johnston dining hall, are mothballed for no apparent reason. Elphinstone Hall and the Linklater Rooms, also perfectly placed for between-class use, are locked up except for special events. Surely at least one of these spaces could be kitted out as a kind of student lounge?
As often seems the case, we have to look to other universities to find innovation. Not far away, Stirling are currently building a three-storey extension to their already spacious union which will house a variety of group study and relaxation spaces. They’ve also placed fun-sounding “study cabins” around their campus, and allocate a huge loch-side dining room to student use after the lunchtime rush. Meanwhile, the lower floors of Glasgow University’s library have recently been remodelled to provide numerous American diner style booths, plus plenty of semi-private “egg” chairs. Again, a daytime restaurant with a variety of seating types remains open into the evenings for quiet study. In England, a large room has simply been filled with bean bags at Warwick University and Loughborough have cleared two floors of their library of books for open plan informal study. Exeter continues this innovative trend where no less than four differently configured social study spaces have been developed, one of which even includes a relaxing koi carp pond. Many of these spaces are open 24/7 all semester.
But the ultimate social study space must be one in which students can actually fall asleep. University College London seems to have been the first to introduce sleeping pods into their library, and these have now spread to the University of East Anglia’s “Nap Nook” and Manchester’s “ZZZ Zone”. Closer to home, Edinburgh’s union has passed a motion to demand the university provide campus sleeping facilities after a survey of 1,500 students found 93% in favour (and for a consideration of the pros and cons of campus snoozing, see Natasha Doris’ Opine piece elsewhere in this edition).
The Duncan Rice is a fantastic looking building, but it’s not a welcoming one and it’s certainly not somewhere you go to be cosy in winter in what is, after all, the coldest city in the UK, and, emphasised by its huge windows, the darkest in winter.
Whilst concentrating on eye-candy projects like this and the new “Toastrack” science building emerging behind it, our university seems to be ignoring the sea change that has taken place in students’ study habits over the last few years. Aberdeen needs to reassess its estate and spending for the needs of 14,000 shivering, stressed-out students. Every news story of some innovation taken by one of our southern neighbours shows we are being left out in the cold, and it is such innovations that will ultimately benefit the university itself in attracting future applicants.