By Áine Kenny
NUI Galway’s James Hardiman Library has not been invested in or improved upon since 1999, SIN has learned.
The other six Irish universities have made investments of at least €20 million in the past ten years to modernise their library buildings, by either extending or replacing them.
NUI Galway has made no such investments.
In its annual LibQual survey, 85 per cent of the comments about NUI Galway library’s physical environment were negative.
SIN spoke to John Cox, the University Librarian and the man in charge of the library. He is advocating for more investment.
“The current Main Library building dates from 1973 and was extended three times between then and 1999.”
“As such, it reflects traditional approaches to learning as an individual pursuit involving limited engagement with technology or with classmates.”
“University education is now very different, and the emphasis is on participation, interaction with other disciplines and independent or group learning beyond the lecture.”
“Newer university libraries facilitate collaborative project work, creating objects with 3-D printers, practice with giving presentations, and brainstorming ideas across disciplines.”
“Students at NUI Galway deserve a much more modern library building and it’s my top priority to continue advocating for this.”
“The current building, despite its poor condition, receives almost a million visits a year, so a new facility would make a huge difference to a lot of students in all subject areas.”
In comparison to other universities, NUI Galway’s current library facilities are very poor.
“Our library building scores poorly in international surveys and is bottom of the pile in Ireland in terms both of quality and quantity of space per student.”
“The University of Limerick has just opened a €31 million extension, offering a generous range of learning spaces and technologies, while the library at Maynooth University is a great example of versatility, designed to meet at least seven different learning styles.”
“By comparison our library building is cramped, inflexible and uncomfortable.”
“We participate in an annual international survey and achieve good scores for our staff and collections, but the section on ‘Library as Place’ is always our worst rated area by a distance, and attracts most comments.”
“This year 85% of the comments about our physical environment were negative. Some examples include:
- “Air conditioning please – do they want to suffocate us?”
- “More library spaces needed with plugs.”
- “A big let-down compared to the library in UCC where I completed my undergrad degree.”
- “Chill-out spaces would definitely help the library and study experience.”
- “There is barely enough space for students to work alone, and almost no space at all for group work.”
- “More diverse study spaces in terms of computer labs.”
Mr Cox says it is difficult to pin down why the NUI Galway has not invested in its library.
“This is difficult to explain, given that a library is for everybody and is a real space of community on campus. The library plays an important social and academic role, which benefits student experience and retention.”
“The current University strategy, in a campus – wide buildings regeneration plan, commits to the ‘transformation of our Hardiman Library building into a dynamic learning environment, reflecting the culture of knowledge creation in a contemporary university’… but nothing has happened.”
An expensive feasibility study in 2014 produced a detailed plan for transforming the building. It estimated the transformation would cost NUI Galway €25 million.
So far, NUI Galway has not acted upon these detailed plans.
“Possibly the scale of the investment required has proved daunting, although similar sums have been found for other buildings,” Mr Cox says.
“There may be misperceptions that online access to information reduces the need for libraries, despite the million visits to our building annually.”
“Investment in research buildings has received a higher priority, perhaps because research funding awards generate a more obvious and immediate return, at least in financial terms, than libraries.
“This, however, ignores the long – term competitive advantage libraries can deliver in terms of attracting students, retaining them and contributing to their success.”
Mr Cox says that a Nursing and Midwifery Library was built on to the current building in 2009, but this is not enough.
“The Hardiman Research Building, which adjoins the Main Library, opened in 2013. But as its name implies, this is a facility for researchers. Undergraduates have to make do with the James Hardiman Library.”
“Library and Buildings Office staff have made great efforts over the years to make the best of the building. The Ground Floor got a new carpet and lighting system last summer.”
“Such improvements are welcome, of course, but they don’t represent the major investment needed to provide a fundamentally different building for students to align with new approaches to learning.”
Despite the 2014 feasibility study, there has been no commitment to act upon it.
“This is in spite of ongoing advocacy and the clear inadequacy of the current building to meet student needs. We have fallen well behind what is on offer elsewhere, and our students should expect better,” adds Mr Cox.
“There has been a surprising lack of student protest at the poor quality of the current library building. The pressure for change has not been strong from those who need it most, and the student voice needs to be heard effectively on this issue.”
“I and the Library staff would be delighted to work with the student body to discuss and communicate your needs and expectations.”
NUI Galway’s Registrar and Deputy President, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh, says that the reason why the library has not been invested in is because “we have not yet identified a source for the €30 million + in funding that we need.”
“We did highlight it as one of our top two priorities in a submission to the HEA in January 2017 in response to a request from the HEA for information on capital requirements in HEIs, but as yet we have not had any funding released.”