Ultra Vires


The Library Chairs Need to Go!


My neck! My back! My carpal tunnel syndrome!

Chairs on the second floor of the Bora Laskin Law Library. Credit: Ian T. D. Thomson

We would like to draw your attention to a particularly sexy and studious topic. That’s right; we’re talking about ergonomic chairs. Ones with adjustable seat height, good lumbar support, and movement and stability. Do you know what’s neither sexy nor studious? Back and neck pain caused by the chairs in the library. You know the ones; they are grey, flimsy, and somehow the backrest can bend all the way to the floor if you are determined enough. But in all seriousness, the chairs in the library have no ergonomic capabilities, which significantly affects the physical well-being of students at the law school. 

For a variety of reasons, some students virtually live in that library. It could be that they don’t have a quiet home space conducive to studying, that their commute is long and they do not want to waste time travelling back and forth, or maybe they are just more productive at the library. For whatever reason, the result is that law students can spend eight hours or more sitting in the library chairs each day, staring at their laptop screens and textbooks (and let’s not even talk about the exponential increase during exam periods). Spending this amount of time in a chair without proper ergonomic support over the course of a semester, a school year, or a degree can cause students to develop a range of musculoskeletal disorders—further causing a detrimental impact on students’ mental well-being. Studying administrative law is rough enough without having to work through the pain of your back seizing up or your hands going numb. 

After a strenuous exam season that included ample use of the library chairs, Lauren Di Felice (2L) was left with significant back pain. She reached out to the Students’ Law Society (SLS) to see if there was anything that could be done about the chairs in the library. Her inquiry, dated May 26, 2022, expressed that the ergonomic chairs in the study rooms significantly mitigated the pain she experienced from using the regular grey library chairs. Her hope was that the SLS could advocate for better chairs throughout the rest of the library.

The SLS was responsive to her concerns and expressed that they had heard this complaint from numerous students. The SLS also mentioned that the law library is a part of the central University, not the law school, meaning the concern would have to be brought up at a Library Committee (the Committee) meeting. Further, the SLS informed Di Felice that when the matter had been brought up at a previous meeting, the Committee reported that the University said the situation would not be remedied due to a “budgetary issue.” The issue will likely be brought up again in November at the next Committee meeting. However, as the law library is one of the newer libraries on campus, we fear that improving the quality of chairs here will likely be low on the University’s to-do list. 

This brings us to the main point of this article: maybe it’s time for academic institutions like U of T to start taking the ergonomic needs of their student body more seriously. Quality ergonomic seating should be a priority for all campus libraries, including (but not limited to) the law library. Based on the newsletter sent out by U of T Student Life on October 11, 2022, advertising an online “Let’s get ergonomic” workshop, U of T clearly seems alive to the problems caused by a non-ergonomic setup. The event description states that the workshop will help students “[g]et tips for setting up your desk and learn how to incorporate movement to prevent pain and injury when learning at home.” It struck us as strange that U of T would help prevent us from experiencing pain at home when they do not seem willing to provide us with the resources to do so at school. Considering the number of hours students spend sitting in library chairs looking at their laptops, we think it is time that U of T invests in quality chairs for our libraries. Doing so would be a sensible investment in student health and productivity.

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