The Library as a Preferred Place for Studying: Observation of Students’ Use of Physical Spaces

Annie M. Hughes


Objective – To determine students’ utilization of physical spaces in the library, excluding computer labs or stacks.

Design – Observational research, unobtrusive method.

Setting – Areas of space in the University Library, as well as within adjoining areas at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, such as carrels, tables, soft chairs, and study rooms.

Subjects – Students using the library’s space.

Methods – The researcher chose to collect data via observation of individuals and groups in a particular space in the library, noting the gender of the individuals using the space and whether or not they were using laptops. Areas of space examined were carrels, group study rooms, chairs and sofas, tables and chairs in the Academic Commons, and benches and chairs within corridors. The unit of analysis used was equal to an individual seat. The research excluded stack space as well as any space with fixed computer stations. The time periods chosen to study the spaces were selected based on the author’s previous research. Due to higher daytime usage than evening, data was collected at two time periods during the day: 12-1 p.m. and 3-4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The researcher recorded the time of the semester as well, choosing weeks 14-17 in Fall 2007 and weeks 10-17 in Spring 2008. Space diagrams for collecting data were created, and each area had different collection times. All data was entered into a database in which each area was recorded with the number and type of users. Each area had a different capacity as to how many individuals it could hold. If the percentage of capacity was higher than 50%, the usage was considered to be notable.

Main Results – The researchers observed a few patterns from their data collection. Gender analysis provided information regarding the use of laptops; men were more likely to use them than women. While men were a smaller part of the overall university demographic while this research took place, they utilized the library spaces most.

As expected, library usage increased as the end of each semester neared, suggesting that the spaces are used mainly for study purposes. The author also chose to collect data regarding library usage by semester, which is questionable because the student population declined from fall to spring and a Campus Center opened, providing another study space.

The most attractive spaces in the library were study rooms, and for the most part, groups, as opposed to individual students, utilized these rooms. The chair and sofa areas of the library were the next most popular areas, but the study carrels were also popular, especially toward the end of a semester.

Conclusion – According to the researcher, the data collected points to the library as a preferred place for studying, as opposed to other activities. By observing the use of areas such as study carrels, soft chairs, and group study rooms, one can derive data that will allow for future space planning, as well as gain an understanding of how a current space is being used.


space planning; space utilization

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