Debut Debates: Are 24-hour libraries a good thing?

In the first in a new series, we discuss the pros and cons of 24-hour libraries. Are they good value for money or bad for our health?
Avantika Vaishnav
Avantika Vaishnav

Introducing Debut Debates – two writers go head-to-head over some of the biggest issues facing students and young people today. With Debut research finding that  18% of students only sleep for 3-5 hours a night (compared to the 7-9 hours recommended by experts), we ask whether 24 hour libraries help students study in a way that suits them or perpetuate unhealthy sleeping patterns? Ryan Ellis and Sarah Wilson battle it out…

YES – Why we should be thankful for 24-hour libraries

by Ryan Ellis

We’ve all been there at some point during our degree. The deadline for coursework is looming and you’ve spent one too many nights out on the town rather than revising some obscure theory; because socialising with friends is relevant for your CV, right?

So, there you are, studiously hitting the books at a chilly 2am in a lonely concrete building, fuelled only by energy drinks and that awful machine-made “coffee”. In an ailing attempt to perfect your line of argument, you suddenly appreciate your library’s noble commitment to only close its doors on Christmas day.

Some people are night owls

24-hour libraries for night owls

In all seriousness, some people plainly work better once the sun has set. A study by an American consumer genetics company found 15 genetic variants that determined whether an individual was a ‘morning person’ or a ‘night owl.’ To refuse night-time access to those individuals who are more proactive during the evening would be extremely detrimental to their study.

For other students, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. This is especially true for those students who must work part-time jobs to support their academic studies. With a potentially inflexible schedule, the library should be willing to work around the student, not vice versa. A library’s resources also provide support to those unable to purchase expensive equipment. Computers, specialist software and printers; should a student’s access to such vital apparatus be prevented because the clock has struck 7pm? To do so would lead many to question a university’s commitment to support student progression, regardless of their socio-economic background.

Value for money

24-hour libraries value for money

Moreover, students now pay over ВЈ9,000 per year for the privilege of a higher education. The argument that this is “value for money” would be severely weakened without access to a 24-hour library. Put simply, it’s proof of a university’s investment in its students.

Yes, the digital era has found a steady increase in the number of internet resources at our disposal. But a library is more than just a collection of books and journals. As the historian Shelby Foote once proclaimed; “a university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.” To place an arbitrary timetable upon access to the home of academia would be a grave mistake.

We live in a society now unguided by time. People have around the clock access to news, information, and even burgers! Why should a main feature of the academic experience be any different?

NO – 24-hour libraries are bad for our health

by Sarah Wilson

All-nighters. They’re an item on the student bucket list alongside stealing a traffic cone and making it through a seminar when you haven’t done the reading.

Like getting black-out drunk, universities should be discouraging all-nighters among students. Yet whilst many universities promote sensible drinking, more than ever have begun to offer 24-hour library services. This, in my opinion, is bad news for everyone.

Getting the work-life balance

24-hour libraries world life balance

Today students and young people suffer sky-high levels of stress which are undoubtedly exacerbated by a pressure to succeed. Feeling able to strike a balance between work and socialising is crucial for students’ wellbeing.   24-hour libraries make this difficult. Their presence implies to students that they could, and should, be working at all hours of the day, creating an atmosphere in which time off feels guilty rather than deserved. When I was at university, the thought that a 24-hour library was just minutes from my room often plagued me on the evenings that I chose to relax instead of work. On the contrary, restricted library opening hours encourage students to draw a clear distinction between work time and down time.

Protecting our well-being

24-hour libraries unhealthy

For those with existing mental health problems, 24-hour libraries can be even more disastrous. The ability to work during unsocial hours often enables vulnerable students to isolate themselves from others and fall into unhealthy irregular sleeping patterns. For anyone, but especially for those with mental health issues, irregular sleep schedules can wreak havoc on our wellbeing. Aside from anything else, work produced at 3am and powered by caffeine is highly unlikely to be as good as work produced during the day after a good night’s sleep. It might be irritating for those perpetually last-minute students, but restricted library opening hours encourage discipline and healthier habits in general.

24-hour libraries also require universities to pay out extra money for staff to cover the desk. This takes cash away from other areas where it might be better spent like teaching and academic resources. Students visiting all-night libraries also put themselves at greater risk by travelling after dark to reach it, especially if they are alone. Libraries with restricted opening hours, though not eliminating this risk totally, do create a situation in which students are travelling largely in daylight when other people are around and a number of public transport options are available.

In a world where so many crave convenience, 24-hour libraries can seem a fantastic idea. But in reality, the impact they can have on student safety, wellbeing and happiness far outweighs the benefits.

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