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‘We do not want to be security staff’

The Gaudie interviews Simon Bains regarding why University libraries enforce mask-wearing.


by Tomoki Otani

Courtesy of Tomoki Otani


The Gaudie interviews University of Aberdeen Head Librarian, Simon Bains about the generalised student confusion surrounding face masks, and why the university libraries enforce them when other sites in the university may not.


Regarding this, he commented:


“It should be self-evident that café’s work differently because they have to. But it might not be self-evident that you can take your face covering off in a teaching setting but not in the library. You may find, as you walk around the university, the requirements on you may be different in different spaces. And that, I can understand, is confusing but actually, if you look at the rules, we’re still complying.”


The rules that Mr. Bains is referring to are the Coronavirus public libraries guidance.


“We want to help people, that’s what brings us into this profession. We do not want to be security staff. None of my colleagues enjoys this, but we have government rules to follow, and the government rule, as it stands, offers us two options. We either require the wearing of face masks, properly fitted, at all times, or we maintain a strict one-meter distancing rule throughout all our spaces. What we decided to do was abandon the one-meter distancing rule and require face-coverings at all times.”


The two options facing the libraries were not made clear to students.


“It’s hard to go into the level of detail I’ve just done about the options, which is why it’s helpful to get an opportunity to speak to you.”


Earlier last year, the Sir Duncan Rice Library had its capacity reduced to one-fourth (1000 spaces to 250) to observe social distancing and to allow students to take their masks off while seated.


This resulted in queues “from the welcome desk, out the building, and around the corner”, as Bains commented, that students waited in for up to an hour.


Mr Bains added: “I haven’t gone out and consulted on this. I’ve made the decision that the best thing for the student experience is the face coverings rather than the queue. I can’t imagine that everybody would vote for one-meter distance and less space, it seemed the obviously wrong answer to the question.”


Although Mr Bains said that there is “no easy answer” to this, the libraries are now open 24/7 since Saturday 20th of November, offering their full capacity to students and staff who are wearing a properly fitted face mask.

Mr Bains acknowledged that the library has received lessened footfall this year due, in part, to their requiring face masks.


“I imagine there are students out there who are saying, ‘well, I’d like to use the library, but I can’t bear it at the moment.’ If that’s the case, then I’m very sorry for them. I can’t wait to scrap some of this and bring people back but for now, I can’t do that.”