Busy B: a week in the life of the beloved library


Durham’s much loved Bill Bryson Library (affectionately nicknamed the Billy B) tends to get very busy at this time of year. At the same time last year, Palatinate reported on how that busyness affected students. This year, we look behind last week’s numbers, to answer: when’s the best time to visit the Billy B?

One of the perpetual quandaries of any dissertation-writer is how long they can sleep in for before the library gets full. People tended to lay-in longer as the week went on, but most people arrived between 9am and 10am, with the morning rush peaking around 11am. Therefore, those aiming to bag a nice seat should arrive before 9am, especially between Monday and Wednesday, and those wanting to avoid sitting next to someone else should probably arrive before the 10am rush.

At its busiest point last week, at 2:35pm on Monday, 15th January, there were just 166 seats available out of 1,800 total, meaning 7.35% of Durham’s student population were sitting and studying together. This is part of a wider pattern, as the library’s busiest time was consistently during the mid-afternoon spot. You’re probably better off booking a seat or looking elsewhere on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, but on Wednesdays and Fridays you might just make it (if you can brave sitting next to a stranger).

The library’s occupancy usually tails off between 5pm and 7pm, as people head home for dinner and socials, with those pulling some late nights slowly trailing off until around 4am. But, if you’re looking to have the library to yourself, visit it between 5am and 7am, especially on weekends; the quietest point this week was 5:55am on Saturday, 20th January where the library was completely empty.

The latest innovation to the Billy B’s occupancy tracker has been the implementation of a floor-by-floor tracker, allowing Palatinate to determine Durham’s favourite floor. Level 1 was the only floor that got down to 0, being completely full for much of Monday and Tuesday afternoon. However, the most consistently busy floors were level 2 and 4. Level 2, the entrance floor was on average 53% full, with level 4 coming at a close second being on average 52% full. Therefore, if you’re heading into the Billy B at a busier time, level 3 might just be worth a visit.

Of course, all of this predicates that you haven’t booked a seat, as there are some parts of the library which you can book. There is a selection of individual study rooms, located on different floors throughout the library, which students have a 10 hour allowance for, and ‘stay and study’ spaces, which make up much of level 3, and the ‘Silent Study’ space on level 1, below the cafe, which students can book up to 30 hours of. If you know you’re going to need a seat when it gets busy, it might be worth using the library’s online ‘space booking’ tool so you’re not caught short.

Yet, the Billy B’s four walls are not all that Durham has to offer. The Teaching and Learning Centre, Students’ Union, College libraries and department buildings (amongst others) are freely accessible for studying students. And, for those willing to stump up for the price of a coffee, there’s a range of cafes and coffee shops dotted about the city centre.

The Bill Bryson Library is accessible 24 hrs a day during term time. Visit libguides.durham.ac.uk/studyspaces for more details about the University’s offering, to view the Library’s occupancy and book study spaces.


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