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The virtues of the 24/7 university library in Covid times

The Beatrice Shilling Building at Royal Holloway University London (by Stride Treglown)

The return to university has led to new outbreaks of the C-virus and placed some students in lockdown. The BBC has reported that some complain of being locked down in their student university halls in a situation described by student unions as shambolic.

Cora Kwiatkowski, Divisional Director at Stride Treglown says that students in 2020 face an extraordinary burden in navigating the ongoing pandemic. But could the opening of libraries and study spaces 24/7 help maintain correct social distancing while keeping learning ongoing?

Not all students like to study during the day, but some as night owls could make use of university study spaces with correct distancing, if they were open twenty four hours a day.

'The trend has been building for a few years', she says. 'Students want the flexibility to tailor when and where they study to suit their mood and preferences'. She cites the firm's design of the Beatrice Shilling Building, completed in 2018 for Royal Holloway, University of London, in Egham, Surrey, driven by demand from students with increasingly high expectations as paying consumers of education.

'This trend will likely speed up now that blended learning models of pedagogy, imposed because of coronavirus, mean that students no longer have to be quite so co-located in space and time to complete their courses.'

Cora explains that while some students will always want to study in daylight hours, others prefer the night.

'And that's the problem, the shut down of communal study spaces and related IT services beyond a certain hour closes down choices...but could opening 24/7 help avoid overcrowding and thus breaches of social distancing in buildings? Furthermore if all-hours opening were normalised long-term, it could mean that the university estate is used more intensively. With intelligent monitoring, this could avoid the need to extend or build new facilities, which of course would save on capital and operational costs and reduce the universities' carbon footprints.'

Cora talks about the need for careful planning and the implications for staffing, security, insurance and energy costs and through good design ensuring that students want to use the facilities. It is not enough she says to provide spaces where group study is possible, but good design provides the superglue that...'binds students and staff to a place by nudging them to feel happy, welcome, comfortable and productive. Libraries are at the heart of this, but there is no reason why other building types - computer hubs, teaching spaces, breakout zones in atria, and so on - should not be adapted to the need. Opening up study spaces for longer could make the experience safer, happier, and more attractive. It could also lead to market advantage and long-term net financial and sustainability gains.'

New approaches to university building design and campus planning will be discussed in our forthcoming 'Science Citiies ll' debate on the 7th October.

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