Many thanks to everyone who took the trouble to respond to my query last week. I appreciate all your contributions.
Below is a compilation of the responses I got.
LIS-LINK Praying in the Library responses
We did have some students praying in the library we've not written anything specifically into the Library Regulations but we sent the attached document to staff to help them feel comfortable approaching students to redirect them to the facilities available for prayer.
What if someone is praying in the library?
• If someone is praying do not interrupt, let them finish
• Approach the student and let them know they can pray in the Chaplaincy prayer rooms but that the library is preserved as a work space
One avenue might be an approach to your Students' Union exec? Does Bedfordshire SU have an Islamic Society (for one, as I realise this may not be limited to Muslim library users) with whom a dialogue might be entered into?
We haven’t formally included it into our library regulations but have engaged with all the heads of the faiths through the chaplaincy and asked them to encourage their faiths to use the purpose built facilities for prayer. In operation we wait until a student has finished praying then politely request they don’t do it again in the library and use the appropriate spaces. We have issues with foot washing in the toilet sinks as well, and this is something we have also broached with the Imam to encourage the use of the purpose built facilities!
Our university's policy is that the university is a secular space, so this is university guidelines rather than library guidelines - you're likely to find that it's an issue in other buildings on campus as well, not just yours. Because of the university policy, plus the other issues you've also experienced about disruption to other students, praying is not permitted in the library.
We have an A5 leaflet that we hand out to students / visitors who ask, directing them to the prayer room and stating its opening hours. If we come across someone praying, we let them finish then go back and explain that it's not permitted in the library and give them a copy of our guidance sheet. Visitors sometimes say that they can't get into our prayer rooms as they have swipe card door locks but the university's security team can remotely let them through the door into the prayer room so that is not accepted as a reason to pray in the library - the guidance sheet also has the security phone number on it to facilitate access by visitors.
But we have some study rooms so it does not annoy anyone as they use these study rooms to do their prayers after closing the door. I do not however advertise this.
If they were to start praying in the library I would urge them to use either allocated prayer rooms or the study rooms. Having said that, if the library (for example in the summer) is very empty, I might let them do this in the main library. It depends how silent/loud they'd be. But my library is very small and sometimes in the summer very empty so not such a big deal for me.
Perhaps you have some group study rooms that you could allocate to them? If it is for "short" times ie Ramadan.
This is an issue for us too, and on my list of things to look at over the summer. I'm afraid that I cannot help you with an answer. So far I have tried to find out how University security and other departments tackle this in spaces throughout the University as we do have prayer rooms available, but I have not had much luck with them.
When the issue came up here, the presenting problem was a request for prayer space rather than a complaint from people around. Having no space to offer, I answered with information from the Chaplaincy, and said that I was happy for courteous and unobtrusive prayer to continue in the reading area.
You must distinguish between private personal prayer and the more obvious behaviour which calls attention to oneself. Many religious people would think that they can pray anywhere and always, but would do so unostentatiously.
I did work in Saudi Arabia for a while, and soon found my office was being invaded by someone to prostrate himself in prayer. i had a word with a colleague of the same religious persuasion as him, who sugested he use the close-by mosque. Certainly, if you do want to suggest they go elsewhere to pray, it would be worth discussing it with an intermediary who is of the same religious persuasion, hopefully a senior memeber of staff, and if such guidance came by such an indirect route, there would be less chance of giving offence. Guidance could even come in a university chaplain's notes, not the library's!
it's not something we have experienced, perhaps because our proportion of Muslim students is smaller than your must be, given the area. We have prayer rooms in all out buildings and they are well-used, but we also have a large mosque close by.
I think you might find it helpful to contact the Muslim Society, or the imam attached to the Uni chaplaincy to find out the reason for this, as there obviously has to be one. There could well be issues to do with the prayer room, - proximity/distance, overcrowding, problems with particular groups of students, which you might be able to help them address by redesignating an area closer to the library (or if you have a self-standing building), within it.
Security have copies of the attached notice that they will leave on the possessions of anyone they see praying. They won't disturb anyone whilst they are praying, they simply leave a notice. We have some posters with the same message that we display in areas where students are known to pray.
We worked closely with the Student Union, especially the Islamic Society and the Muslim Faith Advisors to encourage students to pray in the appropriate space. Praying in the library does still happen but it's much less common than it was prior to the current campaign.
We have also established a designated meeting point just outside the library entry barriers but inside and in view of the security desk. It's not specifically for meeting to go to the prayer room but ISoc have encouraged members to meet there at certain times when it's dark and students might feel more comfortable travelling the short distance across campus in a group. This was in response to feedback which said that some students prayed in the library as they didn't feel safe going to the prayer room alone.
Related to this issue, we organised a visit to the prayer room with one of the Muslim Faith Advisors. Most of the staff learned a lot from the experience and it has helped significantly with our understanding of the issues involved.