Aug 9, 2020

PhD Students Fear Entering Library Due to Lack of Face Coverings

Face coverings are not currently mandatory in the library, but students are being told to observe social distancing rules.

Cormac WatsonEditor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

A number of PhD researchers have said that they no longer feel safe studying in the library as most students working there are not wearing face coverings.

It is currently not mandatory to wear face coverings in the library, but students are expected to social distance while studying there.

In an email statement to The University Times, Head of Reading Room Services & Space Peter Dudley said that the library “is currently facilitating 2m distancing in all our reading rooms. Our service counters have been fitted with glass screens. The Research Collections reading room will be using face visors and asking readers to wear face masks due to the closer reader contact”.


This is in accordance with the recently published guidelines for Colleges, released by the government, that state that students should maintain a physical distance of two metres at all times. If this is not possible, the physical distance can be reduced to one metre but students must then wear a face covering.

However, one PhD student Tenaya Jorgensen told The University Times that when she went into the library in late July, students were not social distancing and that she was the only person on her floor of the Berkeley Library wearing a face covering.

“I was very shocked to see that there was probably one other person in the library who was wearing a face mask and students were not sitting two metres apart”, she said.

The College, she added, was “boasting about Luke O’Neill coming out saying that face masks should be mandatory in secondary schools. They’re talking about how their researchers are doing all this incredible research and making such a difference. But then we aren’t listening to our own science”.

Many PhD students have no choice but to go to the library as their research space has been closed off to them or they need access to books to carry out their research.

Elysée Yhuel, another PhD student, said that the lack of masks “puts especially PhD students at risk because we’re the ones who are using these spaces”.

“I know plenty of PhD students who have no research space on campus and have been ignored when they have brought this issue up. The library is their only recourse and it’s just a shame that they don’t even feel safe in that space either”, Yhuel said.

Ariana Malthaner, a PhD student in the Department of Irish and Celtic Studies, said that she has not been to the library because of the lack of face masks and social distancing.

“If I know it’s not going to be enforced on the Dart, and I know it’s not going to be enforced on campus then it becomes a question of: ‘Am I really willing to take the risk when I know that nowhere I go am I going to feel particularly safe?’”, she said.

“If it was just the dart, and I knew that campus would be safe and I would know that I would feel comfortable and safety wouldn’t be a concern then it might be different.”

Catherine Bromhead, who is currently finishing her thesis, said she doesn’t “feel safe to go” to the library.

Bromhead said that she is also frustrated by the College’s attitude to the coronavirus pandemic more generally.

“It’s frustrating to me that they’re not being overcautious about this”, she said. “I feel like they should overestimate how cautious they should be. If people get very seriously ill, if one student comes in sick, even if there aren’t many people on campus, even if it’s a small class, that’s still people getting sick.”

“There isn’t an acceptable number of cases – we shouldn’t be having any. It really doesn’t seem to me that they’re taking it seriously enough”, she added.

After closing at the beginning of the pandemic, the libraries re-opened last month to students working on their dissertations or students studying for their resits.

In an email to students last month, Trinity’s Librarian and Archivist Helen Shenton said that the reopening is “focused on the essential needs of academic staff, postgraduate students and undergraduate students who may be sitting reassessments”.

In an email to students in July, Vice-Provost Jürgen Barkhoff said: “As facilities and services on campus will be limited, you should not come onto campus to socialise or for no specific purpose. The numbers of students on campus will be closely monitored.”

He also said that campus will remain closed to the general public until at least September 28th, “with the aim of ensuring the potential for overcrowding is minimized and that as many students and staff as possible can safely return to college”.

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