A permanent place to study

Students talk about this year’s extra challenging HSC year, and how the Library was there to help.


The HSC period is always a challenging time for Year 12 students, but this year’s pandemic made it extra testing for the cohort of 2020. School shutdowns in March and April meant subjects had to be delivered online without direct support from peers or teachers. Bedrooms became schools and living spaces were suddenly filled with family members returning from overseas or learning and working from home.

Zoë, who was in the Library’s Dixson Room on a Saturday preparing for the Textiles and Design exam, illuminated just one of the unique challenges. ‘This year was so hard for Art students trying to make a major work! I was lucky I could take a sewing machine home, but with Textiles, one early mistake can lead to a whole lot of mistakes and it’s almost impossible to show a teacher a seam screen-to-screen.’ When asked if it changed what she decided to make, Zoë observed, ‘It didn’t so much change what I did but the ways I had to do things.’

The same could be said for just about every student we talked to in the Library during the study and exam periods. And it also changed the way the Library had to go about providing space for the many students we welcome each year. 

A sense of something biggerStudents in the Library

As many school, university and public libraries have been closed or operating shorter hours with restrictions on prolonged desk use, the Library’s reading rooms reached capacity early each day. Keen to provide extra space for students and other readers, but still needing to maintain safe physical distancing practices throughout our buildings, we filled our venue spaces, empty rooms and corridors with tables and chairs to accommodate the hundreds of students who came through our doors. We even opened our largest staff tearoom in the Macquarie Street Building on weekends.

The students came from Mona Vale, Parramatta, Bondi and beyond, waiting in queues or on the floor beside power points until they could get a spot. ‘Studying here in the city became so important,’ said Zoë. ‘It gave us a sense of something bigger.’

Spread across one of the large tables in the Bashir Reading Room among their Chemistry notes, Grace, Soha and Jeanette described how studying at home in 2020 felt just like being in quarantine and carried all the bad memories of being apart from friends. ‘I’ve never lived anything like it,’ said Grace. ‘I literally spent four weeks straight in my room.’ Not having used the Library during their earlier studies or trials, it provided a vital change of scene where they could come together and prepare for their final exams. ‘We come every morning and stay ’til late,’ said Soha. ‘“State” is the only library open from 10 ’til 8.’

The Library is the vibeStudents in the Library

Annabelle, Rachel, Reuben and Annika have been regular visitors to the Library since the end of Year 11. They described the special importance in 2020 of building a study routine. ‘This year with the pandemic, school life merged into regular life so much that it became almost impossible to separate the two,’ said Reuben. ‘The Library is a permanent place to study so that when you go home you can relax.’

That reliability even extended to the faces of their fellow students. ‘Every day you see the same people coming in, you recognise everyone,’ said Annika. ‘We even met new friends in the Library!’ Noah, Katya, Charlotte and Olivia were thankful for the ‘peer pressure’ of a full Mitchell Library Reading Room. ‘It’s motivating,’ added Charlotte. ‘They are essentially our competition!’

Back in the Dixson Room, Zoë’s friend Ashley, who she described as ‘the disciplinarian’, was preparing for Business Studies, Commerce and Geography. ‘With two loud brothers around, home was not the vibe. Mitchell is dead silent which keeps me studying. But it’s been useful having the option of more informal spaces too, where we can work together.’ With its great facilities and long opening hours, Ashley said, ‘the Library is the vibe’.

As for life after the exams, Rachel wants to study cooking at TAFE for a year before heading to uni. Annika will do a four-month traineeship on Lord Howe Island to get her diving instructor’s licence. But with international travel off limits for the near future, many students will go straight into tertiary study. Olivia hopes to go to the Victorian College of the Arts to study opera singing. Grace will study commerce and IT. Reuben is headed to UTS to do ‘the degree with the longest name’ — a combined Bachelor of Communications (Media Arts and Production) and Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation!

Congratulations to the Year of 2020 on your impressive resilience and hard work. We look forward to welcoming you back for your uni exams!

Mathilde de Hauteclocque
Library Assistant, Information & Access