Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Silent and Independent: Student Use of Academic Library Study Space

Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Silent and Independent: Student Use of Academic Library Study Space

Article excerpt

Context and Introduction

Concordia University, located in Montreal, Quebec, has two campuses, each with its own library. The Vanier Library is located on the Loyola campus which serves approximately 15% of Concordia's student body. Loyola is home to the departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Biology, Physics, Exercise Sciences, Psychology & Neuroscience, Applied Human Sciences, Journalism, and Communications. As part of a

larger renovation plan for the library system, the renovations at the Vanier Library will decrease the available floor space for collections and for study. The higher proportion of science programs at Loyola raised the question of whether the Loyola campus students have specific needs that we should pay attention to.

Routinely collected Vanier Library statistics showed a steady number of library visits and a sustained decrease in both the borrowing activity and the number of questions received at the reference desk in the last 10-15 years. This discrepancy in the number of library visits and use of the library's reference and circulation services encouraged us to consider the role of the library's study spaces and other services such as computers and printing.

In the fall of 2012, an evaluation project was undertaken to determine the study space needs of the Loyola campus student population, as well as the priorities in the renovation plans for the Vanier Library. The data collected would provide input on student use of the library's spaces and inform our decisions when looking for the best way to minimize the impact of the loss of overall floor space dedicated to both individual and group study. An equally important aspect of the project was to provide an opportunity to directly involve the students and library staff in the process of reconfiguring the study spaces so as to develop relationships across campus and to help integrate the library into students' life on campus.

There have been many studies about student use of space in academic libraries often for the purpose of planning for renovations, or to assess the success of recent renovations. Most of the studies collected the data through surveys and focus groups but there are studies that used ethnographic methods as well. A good overview of surveys in academic libraries was given by Creaser. One of the more recent studies, done by Bailin at the University of New South Wales, attempted to assess how well the recently renovated library met the needs of students. Bailin found that near equal proportions of students were coming to the library for the quiet study space, lounge space and to use the computers.

A study conducted by Walton, at the Loughborough University Library, attempted to determine why students chose certain areas of the library to study and what qualities drew them to those study spaces. He discovered that majority of students placed high importance on physical environment and low noise levels when selecting a study location within the library. This study was followed up several years later with an ethnographic study of students' behaviour in the library (Bryant, Matthews and Walton). The spent over 40 hours in unobtrusive observation of one specific open concept study area. They were able to provide evidence of the popularity of that open and flexible learning environment.

Webb, Schaller and Hunley examined space use within the library, wanting to understand students' choices and preferences. Comfort of the study place proved to be a very individual feeling but also an important reason for choosing one place over another.

Vaska, Chan and Powelson examined the different space needs of users of a health sciences library. They found that the majority of their library users preferred the study carrels (58.3%) because they were quiet and set apart from the main traffic of the library. There is a strong preference for carrels near windows. When the respondents were asked for suggestions for improvement, the response fell into three main categories: technological requirements, such as power outlets; furnishings and facilities, such as more comfortable chairs and better lighting; and the final category was comfort and general ambience. …

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