Print Edition: May 8, 2013
When we think of libraries, the first thing that often comes to mind is, “shh.” This has been drilled into us since our very first visit to a library: it is a place for quiet. Given this impression of the library as a place of complete silence, it is understandable that noise is a major cause for irritation.
I have filled out three different surveys asking what would make UFV’s library better. How can the library improve its services for students? The most recent survey had me wondering how many I will have to complete before I actually see significant improvements. One question asked whether I consider the library a getaway.
This earned a quick “no.” But why not? I like the concept – I have definitely needed a getaway spot to study in the past, somewhere comfortable and relatively quiet outside the house. But there are two main reasons I would not choose the library to fulfill that need and which make the library feel unfriendly and unappealing.
The first is the seating. Rows of cubicle-style desks occupy most of the second floor. There are a few problems with these. They look intimidating. They are uncomfortable. It’s a bit depressing to stare at the wooden walls around your little postage stamp of space; studying feels arduous. They make our university appear dated and it is impossible to study with another person. No one wants to sit next to anyone else unless absolutely necessary. The seating just does not seem to represent one of the big themes at UFV: community. Each student sits in his or her own cubicle and cannot wait to get out.
The second issue is the atmosphere. Partly due to the seating and partly because of our expectation for libraries to be silent and imposing, the second floor feels uncomfortable. I become acutely aware of each tiny noise: how loudly am I breathing? How loud are my footsteps? Does it make more noise to slide the zipper on my bag open as slowly as possible, or is it better to tear it open like I would rip off a bandage? Forget chatting in the stacks – just opening my bag feels like a heinous distraction for other library users. I can almost feel the glares from behind the wooden cubicle walls.
Here are my suggestions to make the library a “getaway” for students.
Chop the cubicles into firewood. Maybe save a few for those who really love to use them, but apply a liberal coat of paint.
Plant some comfortable seating and tables in the space the desks currently occupy. Get rid of the rows and make the second floor an appealing place to settle in for a few hours and get some serious studying done.
Keep the main area as a quiet zone, but transform the private study rooms into group-study zones, also equipped with comfortable seating. There can be a balance between the total silence of the stacks and the roar of cafeteria noise. If space is allowed for students to have quiet conversation, this should cut down on sound levels in the quiet zone. The library at another university I attended, though admittedly larger, had different areas for different noise levels, and it worked well.
The library should be a comfortable place to study. A couple of classmates should be able to go there and talk quietly. When students think of the library, the first thing that comes to mind shouldn’t be, “shh.”
I’m tired of being shushed off campus for making minimal noise. The only places indoors I can actually sit with another person are the equally uncomfortable cafeteria or in the middle of a hallway. I am as annoyed as anyone else when someone strikes up a loud conversation about their weekend plans in a quiet-only area, but sometimes people need to talk about their work, and the library needs to find solutions that work for all students, not just the few who love silent cubicles.