How do students want to study in the college library?

College students may be more likely to study alone in library spaces meant for teamwork
By: | February 27, 2020
College library design often focuses now on open, collaboration areas, though research show some nuance on how students prefer to use these spaces.College library design often focuses now on open, collaboration areas, though research show some nuance on how students prefer to use these spaces.

Today’s college library design trends often focus on open, collaboration areas, though research shows some nuance on how students prefer to use these spaces, according to new research.

That doesn’t mean students simply want to shut out the world and cloister themselves in their dorm rooms. In fact, after classrooms and residence halls, libraries are the preferred place to study for many students. But?

“College students were more likely to study alone in a university library’s large open space designed specifically for collaboration,” says “Alone With Others,” a recently released study of recent college library renovations.

The reason? It may be the same impulse that drives people to work on laptops in crowded coffee shops, says Jae-Hwa Lee, the study’s co-author and an assistant professor in Iowa State University’s Department of Interior Design.


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“There are many ways you can lock out the noise and visual connections, and that makes you feel like you can control your surroundings,” Lee says. “But you want to be connected somehow. You can block yourself off from strangers but you can also try to talk to the people around you.”

Lee’s research focused on the first floor of the Marston Science Library at the University of Florida, which was renovated in 2014 to serve as a “collaboration commons” and social learning space. Quiet study areas remained on other floors of the library.

But in the study’s survey, more than 90% of the students said they typically used the collaboration commons for individual studying. Some also said the collaboration space was often too noisy.

And regardless of new table and chairs configurations designed for teamwork, students were still more likely to occupy seats to study individually, Lee says.

Referring to broader college library design trends, the authors wrote: “There seems to be somewhat of a mismatch between users’ expectations and intended design goals.”

Because common spaces remain important to students, administrators redesigning libraries could take inspiration from open-space office plans that—with help from technology—foster collaboration and individual work, Lee suggested.


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A similar study done in 2015 by a pair of Cornell University librarians found students wanted both private study spots and collaboration spaces.

For individual work, students wanted big tables, lots of outlets, chairs set to the right height and adequate lighting in areas where they could block out distractions.

For group work, some students said they liked open collaboration space but also needed access to rooms where they could work together without being disrupted by general library activity, said the Association of Colleges and Research Libraries report.

College library design trends: Collaboration still king

Collaboration, of course, remains a focal point as colleges renovate libraries. In August, Pennsylvania State University opened a Collaboration Commons as part of a $17 million expansion of its Pattee Library.

The commons features 16 group study rooms as well as pods of movable tables and chairs, and plenty of ports for charging devices. At the center, is a multipurpose room that can accommodate 175 people.

And DePauw University in Indiana is about to begin a $30 million renovation of its Roy O. West Library to better accommodate multimedia projects, group collaboration and social interaction.

“Even in this digital age, the campus library is the heart of an educational institution,” David Berque, DePauw’s interim vice president for academic affairs, said in a news release. “But the way students use it has changed greatly.”


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