Reporting on Crowd Control: Library Bookings in a Lockdown Landscape

Kirsty Kift

Kirsty Kift reports on a recent event reviewing space management and access during the ongoing pandemic.

A variety of Libraries across the collaboration presented their solutions to managing library access during COVID-19. The session kicked off with Kirsty Kift (Coventry) who described the extension of Springshare’s LibCal room booking software across 500 spaces in the Lanchester Library. Key takeaways were the need to be prepared to change in response to student feedback and the marmite nature of imposing seat booking. Some students love it, others not so much. Key gains included very positive feedback from the Student Union, the reassurance of managing occupancy in a previously very busy library for staff, an ability to quickly roll the system out to other spaces across the university and the reframing of the library as work rather than a social space.

Next came Mike Garner (Leicester) who spoke about the use of the Lorensberg Connect 2 resource booking in the David Wilson Library. Mike has found the system flexible and powerful, with a familiar authentication system and the massive plus of being able to be managed locally. Particularly interesting was the fitting of a thermal sensor in the exit channel to effectively log people out to keep a count of people in the building, and the use of unreserved seating areas.

Chris Porter (Newman) described a very different set-up with no turnstiles and a library where 59% of their opening hours are unstaffed, which very much influenced their COVID planning. Their key principle was to give as much agency to students as possible summed up perfectly with the phrase ‘We needed a system that keeps people safe from one another, but personal recklessness is people’s own responsibility’.  Click and study and click and visit slots are on offer using the seats module of Springshare’s LibCal software.

Kathy Sadler (Cranfield) described the challenges presented by the configuration of their multiple libraries in creating workspaces that could be safely accessed, because of proximity to stock. Using Space booking are accompanied by route maps loaded into LibCal to guide users safely to their seats. Kathy also described changes in response to student demand such as increases to the number of slots per day and at Cranfield too LibCal had been extended to other university spaces. Kathy was also very much looking forward to getting back the use of the PCs in the library that students can usually book but which were being used for remote computing facilities.

Matt Cunningham (Loughborough) then presented a completely alternative approach to managing access. The Pilkington Library re-opened very early on with no booked seating, and track and trace managed through the turnstiles which has worked well for them and the campus ethos. A new booking system has come on stream with the exam period imminent using LibCal, although there is still no requirement to book a space to come in. PCs spaces remain bookable on a different pre-existing PC booking system. Matt found LibCal to be super easy to set up and to configure and students have fed back that they find it really easy to use.

Finally, Teresa Jordan (Birmingham) described the use of Eventbrite to manage occupancy at their university library. Students can book tickets for an unreserved seat for a whole day and pre-existing familiarity with the system has been a bonus. The entry gates fulfil track and trace requirements. ‘No-shows’ have been an issue and the number of tickets on offer is now double the actual seats available, so as capacity has been reached a one in/one out policy is also in use. This provision is accompanied by a separate drop in area for book collection, printing and returns and the introduction of collection only hours 8-9am three days a week. Feedback has been very positive from students who feel their needs have been addressed.

To sum up it was fascinating to hear about all the different ways in which libraries have approached COVID space and service provision across the Collaboration. The variety of set-ups illustrated wonderfully the diversity of our libraries, what is important to them and their students and the influence of institutional cultures on responses. Most of all it showcased the desire of libraries to do the very best for their students and staff in these unprecedented times.  


A recording of the event is available online. [1hr 26mins, captioned]. The access code is: 1Rz3Ix.1


This event was hosted on behalf of the Collaboration, by the Mercian Staff Development Group (MSDG).