Changing Study Habits
Petroski, Henry, ASEE Prism
Laptops, WiFi and online catalogues make the traditional library obsolete.
OUR ENGINEERING library used to be crowded with students studying and doing homework. Toward the end of the semester, with project deadlines and final exams approaching, every seat at every table would be occupied well into the extended hours. Lately, however, the library has been so empty that there is talk of folding this once-busy branch into the newly expanded main library.
Students have been attracted to the more centrally located main library not only by its location but also by its comfortable chairs, attractive décor and inviting atmosphere. But even at exam time, it is possible to find an unoccupied seat. Three things appear to have played a large role in altering how and where students study: the laptop computer, near-ubiquitous wireless Internet access and personal music systems like the iPod.
As its name implies, the laptop can be used without a table-or even a chair. It has become common to see students sitting cross legged on the floor beside an electrical outlet, typing away. With WiFi access, they can work on their e-mail, surf the Web or connect to the library catalogue. In many cases, they do not even have to move to consult an article or book-chances are increasingly good that it can be accessed from the library's growing electronic collection.
Some students used to be driven to the library to get away from loquacious roommates, raucous parties or loud music that was not to their liking. Now, with their own favorite music downloaded into their iPod or similar device, they can blast it into their ears and so mask all other noise. Also, since libraries seem to have become increasingly tolerant of food and drink on the premises-the aroma of coffee, which has replaced that of cigarette smoke in the atmosphere, is seldom absent-all of a student's senses can be occupied and so exclude all distractions.
In such a self-created cocoon, today's student (and many a former student) can work away virtually anywhere, including the classroom. …