On Wednesday I had to take a tricky decision, though not one that I could have taken differently. At about 5 pm I was informed by some of my staff in DCU that if we were to keep the university library open up to the normal time – 10 pm this week – we would potentially be putting both staff and users at risk. Earlier in the day there had been some heavy snowfall, some of which had briefly turned to slush, and at this point a severe frost had set in and conditions had become hazardous. On top of that, conditions on the roads were rapidly deteriorating, and sending people out with their cars later that evening would have been reckless. So I gave instructions that the library was to close forthwith for the evening; and I asked that the announcement made to users should invite them to contact me directly if they had any concerns. This latter invitation was made in particular because I am well aware that there would have been students there preparing for their imminent semester 1 examinations.
In the event I did receive some messages, but I hope we have been able to help those who needed support or advice, and indeed that those who were inconvenienced understood why this was a regrettable but necessary step. And so Thursday on the campus was very eerily quiet, if rather pretty. I suspect it was not much different in the other universities.
But while I know that, all things considered – and in particular the safety of staff and students – I took the right decision, there is a little bit of me that thinks that as a country we should be able to cope rather better with this sort of thing. I am reminded of early January 1982 when severe weather also hit the country. We may complain about inadequate gritting now, but back then there was none at all. The snow had fallen in similar quantities to what we have just experienced now, but absolutely everything closed. There was no public transport, and for private motorists the roads were death traps – chiefly because most drivers had no idea how to handle icy conditions and were just skidding helplessly this way and that. My then employer, Trinity College, didn’t formally close, but when I managed to make my way to my office, mostly on foot from Monkstown where I lived back then (oh the shame of it, a southside address), I couldn’t get in because everything was locked and nobody was to be seen. And so I had to walk all the way back, and just outside the RDS actually got hit by a car careering out of control (but thankfully was not hurt).
So we are a bit better now, but still not great. In conditions which wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary for people living in, say, Chicago or Wroclaw, we are tempted just to give in. We say we don’t experience this kind of weather enough to warrant buying the equipment and supplies to deal with it when it does occur, but on the other hand we have reached a state of development where weather conditions should no longer put us out of action. And so when one or two students, while saying they realised why I decided to close the library they still thought we should have been able to keep it open, I kind of understand where they are coming from.
Tomorrow I imagine I’ll enjoy the snowy campus a little more in very quiet conditions. But in reality I know we should be firing on all cylinders. And goodness knows what it will all be like after the predicted heavy snowfall on Sunday. Anyway, getting to the office (25 yards from my home) is no problem for me, so I’ll use this time to do some creative things.