The University of Portsmouth Library introduced group study rooms when their building was extended in 2007. The group study rooms are spaces where students can work together in small groups without disturbing others who are using the library for silent study, and they are available to all students, including part-timers.
It is important that students can book the rooms in advance, as some travel a long way to reach the University, so they must be sure that the room will be available when they arrive.
The rooms are furnished with tables and chairs and some of them have screens and whiteboards for students to use. There is always a pressing demand for the rooms, so much that sometimes students had been complaining that there were no rooms available, and there would be groups of students crowding around the reception desk, hoping to be allocated a room that someone else had decided not to use.
Managing the occupancy of the rooms, including checking students in, looking after keys and opening the rooms had been keeping the library reception very busy, and at times rather fraught. There always had to be someone at reception to unlock the rooms and ensure that each room would be allocated to the right person – the student who had made the booking. The reception worked from a simple list of the students who had reserved rooms, but sometimes things would not go as planned – for example a student might not arrive – and when that happened, they would try to re-allocate the room. All this was using up a large amount of staff time.
In 2011, the library opening hours were extended, and a re-organisation brought changes to the security staffing arrangements in the library, and it became clear that the library needed a booking system that the students could manage themselves.
The solution that the library chose was Telepen’s Sentry room booking system, and the library added the door controllers to go with it. Then the library started showing students how to use this new “self-service” system. This process has to be repeated at the start of each academic year when a new intake of students arrives, but it is worth the effort, as the new system effectively runs itself, and there is far less running around for staff to do.
With the Sentry system, students book a room in advance, which they can either do online or at a booking kiosk in the library. When they arrive at the library, they enter a PIN that has been emailed to their phone, and the system releases the door so that they can enter their room. If a student doesn’t turn up for some reason, the system contacts them by email.
The system is always under review, and the Student Staff Consultative Committees are always keen to hear the student’s feedback on how it is working. The students like the system, but some want to book for shorter or longer time slots, and for those who had been complaining that they could not get a room there is a simple answer – the statistics from the system show that rooms are often free earlier or later in the day, so the students are encouraged to plan to come at different times.
The heavy demand for the rooms continues, and as the rooms are so busy, the library has added some additional rooms and some training rooms may soon be added too, to meet the peaks in demand at certain times in the academic year. At the library’s request, Telepen has tweaked the system so that University staff can book rooms up to four months in advance for interviews and seminars, while students can just book two weeks ahead.
The main benefit of the system has been the very high level of occupation of the rooms at peak times – around 90%. Feedback from the students and from library and security staff suggested that some of the two-hour time slots were not being fully used, so the library decided to reduce the booking periods to one hour, to use the rooms more efficiently.
Kath Shakespeare, Team Leader, User Services at the library led the room booking project. She explains:
“All academic libraries are probably the same, they would want to maximise the use of the space they have got, and by listening to the feedback from our students, and reviewing the way we allocate the rooms, we have been able to make some small changes that have really increased occupancy of our rooms.”
“We particularly like the way the system handles cancellations, and we are very happy that library staff can book further in advance than the students – this was a feature that we knew we would find very useful, and enabled us to maximise the use of a meeting room that had been used only intermittently by library staff.”