Vice-Chancellor rubbishes ‘staff restaurant’ claims
Plans for a desperately-needed library extension have been put on hold to make way for a staff restaurant, according to an email sent by the Secretary of the English Department’s Staff /Student Consultative Committee (SSCC).
The email prompted alarm among English students after it was sent out by a department secretary on Monday 28 January. In the message, Sarah Hardman, English SSCC Secretary claimed: “Plans have been drawn up for an extension, but these have been replaced with proposals for new offices for the deans and that all important staff restaurant.”
She continued: “the library may not be at the top of your agenda, but as English students it is pretty important to us.”
Durham’s Vice-Chancellor rubbished the claims, describing Ms Hardman’s email as “complete and utter nonsense”. Professor Christopher Higgins insisted that only last Tuesday he was part of a panel from the University, including the DSU President, who had met to consider the concept architects’ designs, which incorporated the library extension that Hardman claimed was to be scrapped.
DSU President, Flo Herbert told Palatinate: “I’ve seen some of the architect’s ideas for the extension of the library and the other developments planned for the science site, so I can assure you it’s going ahead. The plans are pretty exciting and the University seems committed to building something of significance for students and the city.”
Prof. Higgins continued to strongly refute the claims, and explained that whilst as part of the Gateway Project (see page 6) the University’s Executive will be moving to the science site, there will be “no dean offices whatsoever”. They will remain in their departments.
There are plans for catering facilities, but these will be “for everybody”. The library extension will be a “prestigious building”, to include the law library, relocated from Palace Green, and additional space for, as yet, an unspecified use.
The English department declined to comment on the matter.
Hardman stood by her email when Palatinate spoke to her last week. She was not prepared to reveal where her story originated, but did say that the “hearsay” was brought up and discussed at the English SSCC meeting.
Hardman’s email further claimed that the library is now being forced to operate a weeding system due to space constraints. This ensures any book that is not borrowed for ten years is placed into store.
She points out that “simply because a book has not been borrowed does not mean it has not been used.” The email called on students to “borrow every one of these books” to “send a clear message to the University that the current system is not working and that the library needs more space.”
Deputy Librarian Clare Powne told Palatinate that discussions were ongoing with departments to actively manage the collections. She admitted that the library was “effectively full”.
However, she continued, it has never been the case that the library operated complete “open-access shelving”, and that a store system, which is fairly standard in most universities, had been in operation at Durham for many years.
As for the scrapped library extension, she said: “That’s the first we have heard of that rumour and therefore the library cannot comment.”
The confusion follows a series of recent frustrations with library facilities. The high-profile Facebook group campaign to extend opening hours has already drawn almost 2,000 members, highlighting high student demand for change. A survey has also been underway to assess what improvements are needed.
Prof. Higgins revealed to Palatinate that the University have therefore decided to extend the opening hours of the library.
In the two weeks before and the three weeks during exams, the main library will be open on Fridays and Saturdays from 8am to Midnight.
Weekend opening hours will also increase generally at both Durham and Queen’s Campus. Prof Higgins confirmed that this is being given the “highest priority”.
Simon Rowbotham, DSU Education Officer and an admin on the Facebook group, responded to this news:
“We are all delighted with the news that hours will be extended during the examination period and are looking forward to a decision on the other proposals regarding the long-term opening hours at both the Durham and Queen’s main libraries.
“The University has received our proposal for extended hours with positivity and the DSU is optimistic of more increases in the future.”