Privacy in Public
November 15, 2009 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Where are some good spots in public where I can get privacy?

I have to get a lot of homework done, but lately I've been falling behind in my studies because I find it very difficult to concentrate on anything when there are others around or near me. What I do now is drive to the park at night when there's nobody around to get my work done, but that only works at dark. Are there any public places where I can expect no people to be bothering me?
posted by bobertdude to Education (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe head to an odd floor in your local library. The top floor of my university library was always reasonably quiet and empty, and the desks were sectioned off with cubicles. It was easier to concentrate there.
posted by Josh Coe at 1:29 PM on November 15, 2009

Some universities allow students to reserve small study rooms in the library. You might look into that.

Does it only bother you if the people around you are talking to you or interacting with you in some way? Or is it noise and activity in general?
posted by DMan at 1:30 PM on November 15, 2009

Is there a reason you need to be in public?
posted by craven_morhead at 1:34 PM on November 15, 2009

Response by poster: 1. my house is noisy and there's always someone here, so i can never get work done except late at night or early in the morning.

2. i've been to all the local libraries and they always have people there.
posted by bobertdude at 1:39 PM on November 15, 2009

Maybe a cheap motel room?
posted by Solomon at 1:41 PM on November 15, 2009

Response by poster: when i say "public" i mean "doesn't cost me money".
posted by bobertdude at 1:43 PM on November 15, 2009

Maybe, in addition to looking for "private" public working spaces, you could put some thought into how you could adapt to being able to study in places that were not completely private. Noise-canceling headphones if it's the sound that bothers you, for instance. It's going to be very hard to find complete and utter privacy in the workplace and training yourself to be able to get your work done with folks around might be of real benefit to you.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 1:53 PM on November 15, 2009 [6 favorites]

Do you have any friends with space in their home that you could use, like a basement or dining room?
posted by cadge at 1:57 PM on November 15, 2009

what kind of student are you? do you have easy access to your school's resources? for example, at an university the obvious spots like the student union and library are packed during the day but what i've found is that you can sometimes find an empty classroom and just study in there. however, this may not be an option if you're at a high school (although you might be able to just head over to the local college and hang out there)

and with the park idea most parks are fairly large so that you should be able to find some some where there's few people treading by even during the day, so i'm wondering if like sweettea says, its not so much the space but your inability to filter out what's going on behind you. perhaps you might want to look into techniques to keep yourself from being distracted instead of fruitlessly searching for a public private space, which can sometimes be pretty hard to come by.
posted by tastycracker at 2:10 PM on November 15, 2009

Depending on your definition of "quiet" and "empty", this may be very difficult to impossible to achieve. I do sympathize, however: I was in the dorms first year of university and spent a great deal of time seeking privacy. What I found:

1. University libraries. You don't say whether you're in high school or university, but most university libraries don't care if you're a student there or not. The bottom and top floors tend to be the emptiest, and if you look around, you're bound to find secluded corners where you'll be alone.

2. Coffee shops and fast-food places. The former will be more pleasant, but also more likely to be noisy. Most McDonald's, Burger Kings and the like are designed to grant the diners some privacy. Go at off-peak hours, and buy something every so often so you don't get kicked out.

3. If all you need to do is read, take the bus. Stick to less popular, suburban routes and don't go during rush hour. Sit at the back.

4. Noise-canceling headphones and a bedroom door that locks. When people ask why you didn't hear them knock, blame the headphones.
posted by wsp at 2:11 PM on November 15, 2009

When I need a quiet place to study, I usually wander into one of my campus classroom buildings. The rooms (At Huge Public University) are typically open and the janitorial and security people don't bother me if I'm studying. I've sat down and taken three hour practice tests in these rooms after classes are out and have had no problems.
posted by Geppp at 2:12 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine used to study in his dorm bathroom. He'd sit in a stall and study for hours. I imagine it would work well in a bathroom in your student union. It's odd, but he got a ton of studying done.
posted by christinetheslp at 2:21 PM on November 15, 2009

First, if the mere presence of other people, silently doing their thing, is a deal-breaker, you, my friend, are fucked. You need to modify your expectations, or rent your own sound-proofed apartment.

If you're a college student at a reasonably sized university, I promise you that there's a library somewhere on your campus that nobody ever uses, or where it's always deathly quiet. It may not be the main library, though. Check the departmental libraries: math, earth sciences, psychology, etc. I recommend the math library; even if there're people there, they'll be too absorbed in their work to annoy you.

If you're of legal age, go to a bar during the day. The barkeep'll be there, and a couple drunks. But everybody'll be at the bar. You can get a pint and take it to the way back corner. Beware the ubiquitous barroom TV, though.

If you're a high school student, then you might ask around at local churches to see if there's one that's open on a regular basis and wouldn't mind you hanging out someplace and doing some homework.

...most university libraries don't care if you're a student there or not.

Lots of them do, these days. There are many universities that require you to show student ID to get into any building. It's all part of the security theater, protecting students from gunmen or something.
posted by Netzapper at 2:55 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you tried listening to music on headphones while studying? I find listening to instrumental, repetitive music really helps me concentrate in places where there are others around. There are lots of genres that can work depending on your preferences, e.g.: middle-eastern or south asian devotional music, ambient, techno, house.
posted by Emanuel at 2:57 PM on November 15, 2009

First, if the mere presence of other people, silently doing their thing, is a deal-breaker, you, my friend, are fucked. You need to modify your expectations, or rent your own sound-proofed apartment.

I would second this.

One of your earlier posts says that you are 16; if that is indeed the case, I would think very hard about adjusting your work habits before you start down this road. Everyone has their ideal work environment, but the search for the ideal spot can often mask deeper procrastination issues to the point where you can't ever work. This will be very counterproductive later in life, be it in a university, an office, or on a job site.

Also, if you are only 16 and still live at home, you might consider letting your parents or (whomever you are living with) know that you are having a hard time completing your work because of an un-study-friendly environment.
posted by proj at 3:03 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you attend church? If so, your church might be an excellent choice, since you'll already be known (and trusted) to them and despite the odd function, most churches are typically not busy during regular workdays.

Alternatively, are you able to work in your car? Or work out some way so that's possible? Then the more distant end of your local K*Mart/Walmart/gym/whatever parking lot could be pretty quiet.
posted by wackybrit at 3:06 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I always see a lot of people studying solo at Barnes and Noble (so many that I can never get a seat). And when I worked in downtown DC, I ducked into the lobby of a nearby hotel a few times when I had a sudden need for additional desk space. I tried to pretend I was a fancy-hotel person, but doubt if I fooled anyone.
posted by gsteff at 3:50 PM on November 15, 2009

I would suggest you get some high-end noise canceling headphones and see if you can't make the library work. Hole up in one of those study carrels with blinders on both sides, and/or seek out a very high floor up in the dusty stacks of a public library. No one should bother you, and you'll be surprised how much *real* silence -- white noise; your non-distracting, no-words music of choice; or even just wearing the headphone with no music -- can help you filter out the world and concentrate. I would also suggest using a simple timer to keep yourself focused and track your progress.

In my experience, earbuds such as these Sennheiser CX-300s will do just fine, as will the cheaper Cobys if you're prone to destroying headphones as I am. I prefer my Bose QC 15s if I'm going to be working a while, however. Well worth the investment.

And yes, since other people share your goal of working in public, you're unlikely to find a public/free space devoid of human contact. I feel you, though. Good luck.
posted by xiaolongbao at 3:57 PM on November 15, 2009

I agree with previous posters that if you ever plan to get a job in a workplace, you need to be able to ignore other people, and the less delicate you are about your preferred work environment, the better suited you are to real life. Earplugs might really help you- I find I concentrate best with a steady level of background noise + earplugs. Even earplugs worn under headphones with steady or very familiar music helps. That way you can better ignore the noise around you- the earplugs help smooth everything down into a calming white noise.
posted by twistofrhyme at 4:00 PM on November 15, 2009

I feel for you - I have a similar issue. It's nearly impossible to find exactly what you're looking for, so it becomes about making a space work for you as much as possible. For me, I found one specific desk in the huge reading room of my university library where if I sat at the corner of it, I could no longer see anyone around me at any other desk and I faced a wall. To make sure I got this desk I arrived at the library 5 minutes before it opened. And then I went out and bought industrial noise blocking ear plugs. Keep looking - these little gems of space do exist in otherwise busy public spaces.
posted by meerkatty at 5:12 PM on November 15, 2009

My college library actually had study rooms that you could reserve. The idea was to give people working on a group project a place to go and do their thing. No reason why you couldn't reserve for yourself.

That said, I think library + ear plugs is 1000 times easier. See if you can find a study carrel.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:27 PM on November 15, 2009

I lessen my difficulty with concentration by using plain foam earplugs (covered by headphones if you're worried about appearances) and heading for various community college campus libraries, and my personal favorite, the absolutely soundless library at the theological seminary. Heavenly. While open to the public, they're rarely visited except by students and professors, and no one's ever questioned my presence there- they're not guarded nearly as strenuously as a regular university library tends to be. In high school, I snuck into the backstage of the theatre or one of the art classrooms whenever I needed absolute silence. Part of me also accepted that I was going to be doing most of my high-concentration work at 3 or 4 in the morning. Possibly, if you have been diagnosed with some sort of attention deficit or other learning disorder, part of your school's accommodation might be access to a private study room during the afternoons. I concur somewhat with the others who encourage you to learn coping mechanisms, but as someone who's been struggling with an oversensitivity to sound and a propensity towards distraction since I was old enough to read, sometimes getting away is the only coping mechanism that does the trick. It does improve with age, at least in my experience.
posted by notquitemaryann at 5:32 PM on November 15, 2009

Does your school have music practice rooms? These are usually pretty soundproof. I suppose your ability to use them would depend on how much demand there is for them by actual music students.
posted by lakeroon at 6:17 PM on November 15, 2009

Don't forget department and specialist libraries on campus, too: I've always had excellent luck at philosophy, psychology, law and classics libraries. On nice days, botanical gardens can be a good place to read and study as well.
posted by aquafortis at 6:22 PM on November 15, 2009

i'm in law school and even when the library tables are completely full around exams, i often sneak into classrooms to study. no one's the wiser. my school posts the room reservations on tv screens around the school, and i can check those for conflicts. i'm really surprised i haven't run into anyone else doing the same thing.
posted by anthropomorphic at 7:07 PM on November 15, 2009

Does your school have music practice rooms? These are usually pretty soundproof. I suppose your ability to use them would depend on how much demand there is for them by actual music students.

Don't do this. Musicians are often prohibited from practicing in their dorm rooms. And many instruments are impossible to practice even in private apartments (most brass and percussion, saxaphone, and others).

Those practice rooms are necessary as they're often the only place they can practice without complaint.
posted by Netzapper at 8:35 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it possible for you to time-shift your schedule? If you have all morning classes, for example, you could sleep through most of the evening and start waking up at 1am, giving you at least 6 or 7 hours of near-silence at home.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:50 PM on November 15, 2009

24-hour restaurants. Buy a burger or something, but namely buy some coffee and keep ordering refills. If it's not crowded, restaurants are happy to have quiet college students camping in the restaurant for hours on end; customers draw more customers.
posted by zardoz at 9:10 PM on November 15, 2009

When I was in school, I found the best place in Houston to study was the main medical school library. I was studying computer programming but I'm a procrastinator and easily distracted and I found that the people -- yeah, there were lots of people -- were so intent and so serious about it that they were a great model for me. It wasn't dead silent but the sound was that of serious people studying their asses off.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:49 PM on November 15, 2009

You might find that white noise, or constant noise is less distracting. Maybe roaring surf, a train station, near a freeway, the constant din of a food court at a mall....
posted by at at 10:13 PM on November 15, 2009

When I was in school I used empty classrooms. These weren't hard to find, and they were unlocked; maybe these days that latter aspect isn't so common.

Re: high-end noise canceling headphones suggestion. These work great with constant sounds, like road noise and jet engines. For people around you talking, I suggest earplugs.
posted by Rash at 8:25 AM on November 16, 2009

Bobertdude is 16 and studies alone in the park at night? I don't think we're hearing the whole story here.
posted by Joleta at 9:06 PM on November 16, 2009

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