Comment & Analysis
May 3, 2016

For Postgraduates, The 1937 Reading Room Is Not Fit for Purpose

Denis Ryan argues that the dedicated study space for postgraduate students is inadequate and outdated.

Denis RyanStaff Writer
Anna Moran for The University Times

The 1937 Reading Room is not fit for purpose. The building, which is the only dedicated space for postgraduate students to work for free, thwarts students’ attempts to use its inadequate and outdated facilities productively. Too few seats and computers, dodgy Wi-Fi and a poor layout combine to make the 1937 Reading Room a nightmarish space in which to work. The fact that many students continue to use the building in spite of its many failures is a testament to postgraduate students’ demand for a good place to study rather than an endorsement of its current state. It is also an indictment of Trinity’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) over the years, who have failed to overhaul the building either by successfully lobbying the college or using their own resources.

Enter the 1937 Reading Room and you’re likely to be confused. Facing you is a noticeboard and a door on your right leading to a lobby which looks more appropriate for a museum than a study area. In October, this is where you’ll find postgraduate students turning on their heels and walking out, assuming due to the lack of any signposting that they’ve entered the wrong building. The noticeboard facing every entrant is a prime location for a map explaining the confusing layout of the floors. As it stands, it lacks even an arrow pointing the way.

Persevere, though, and you’ll come into the central study area. If you have a book or laptop with you, you’ll want to find a seat. If it’s a weekday and you couldn’t arrive before ten in the morning, though, this is unlikely. Despite tables crammed into every available space on the ground floor, the postgraduate reading room is almost always full – if not with other students then at least with their jackets on chairs. The seats most often available are in the middle of rows, where students have the disadvantage of a small workspace with others on either side and a person behind who, owing to how close tables are to one another, you’ll disturb just by sitting down. Even getting to these seats is difficult since it means pushing past a dozen people who can’t let you past without moving out of the row in question, and one of the disadvantages to sitting anywhere but in the end rows is that you’ll be moving constantly to accommodate people coming and going. Worse, inadequate plug sockets means you’re also dealing with wires crisscrossing tables as students charge their laptops, phones and other devices. The area is not equipped to handle the current number of students who use it, never mind the obvious demand of other postgraduates who leave, frustrated, realising every seat is full.


The area is not equipped to handle the current number of students who use it, never mind the obvious demand of other postgraduates who leave, frustrated, realising every seat is full

This situation is enviable for those who need a computer to work and don’t have a laptop, though. The room has 22 computers, four on the ground floor and 18 in an elevated gallery. One, which is directly against the only doorway, can be immediately discounted since the amount of foot traffic means it’s only appropriate for printing. The 18 are obviously the first to go in the morning since the workspaces are spacious – a quality otherwise lacking in the whole building. These desks are, in fact, so attractive that they’re often taken by people just using their laptops. This problem has persisted for at least the last academic year. Desk space must be provided where students can do more than read a small book comfortably. While newly installed desks in the gallery are a step in the right direction, they are not sufficient. Second, just printing and putting up a rule on the walls that the desks are only for use with computers would drastically improve the situation. Even if that proved impossible, the GSU could launch a campaign correctly informing students that the WiFi in the gallery is some of the patchiest on campus to discourage people from even trying to use it.

For veterans of the 1937 Reading Room, there is another option for computers. I’m hesitant to mention it, since an astonishing number of students even at this late stage of the academic year don’t know it exists, and consequently it’s often the only place to work. Certainly the GSU seem ashamed of it, since they fail to promote or adequately mark it anywhere. On the lower ground floor, in the postgraduate locker area, there are two ways to go. Everyone knows that the toilets are to the left, but if you go right there is a sign, blocked by a locker, labelled ‘computer room.’ Students have to be brave to find this on their own, since it appears to be a staff area from the front and you’ve got to go past more lockers before you come to the area with computers. Despite being labelled as a computer room, though, this is a computer corridor. Ten computers (one of which is broken at the time of writing) line the wall and at the end there is a staff door. Unfortunately, the computers are facing the windows. Anyone sitting at these desks can clearly hear the conversations of students outside, in the area between the Old Library and the 1937 Reading Room. Breaks between lectures are especially loud, so schedule your coffee runs accordingly. Since there’s a staff area at one end of the corridor, people regularly pass back and forth so that you’re sandwiched between two sources of noise. Also, even given the relative obscurity of this area, ten computers are too few and from midday anyone without a computer – or who had to leave temporarily – is going to have to wait a significant amount of time to get one.

Desk space must be provided where students can do more than read a small book comfortably

The GSU is clearly aware of many of the problems with the 1937 Reading Room. Their website states that they are in the process of improving the toilet facilities and that other enhancements are “in the pipeline”. These include improvements, like additional desks, which are a very basic requirement. They do not, however, lay out a timeline for these improvements and the lack of transparency is frustrating. Rather than stating frankly to postgraduate students – their membership, in short – what is delaying progress (be it administration, personnel or, most likely, funding) we are only vaguely told that improvements are “coming”. In their latest email to postgraduate students, sent April 12th, the GSU simply write that refurbishment of the 1937 Reading Room is “ongoing”. While the email provides a specific reason to excuse delays in updating the toilet facilities, it fails to lay out a comprehensive timetable for the other items. The immediate future will see the creation a graduate common area, in addition to the extra desks which have already been installed in the gallery. These are developments that should have been undertaken by the GSU years ago, and the action of the current officers is certainly welcome. However, they must be followed by a more comprehensive, general overhaul of the Reading Room. Until then, postgraduate students will be stuck in a space which is not fit for purpose.

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