A Library Fortress of Silentude?
May 1, 2008 7:14 AM   Subscribe

There is a war going on in the library. This conflict is between students who seek solitary silent study and those who seek to study or work on projects in groups. An individual student's allegiance to a faction can change from day to day based on their current course load. Because the Grouparians have the advantage of numbers, they tend to win out over the Solitarites. Surely the latter group needs a fortress all their own?

We try to have resources available that fit both factions' needs. There is a quiet floor where cellphones and loud noises are (in theory) banned. There are also a host of group study rooms where folks can meet and work. Unfortunately, each group frequently 'raids' the others' resources in order to satisfy their needs: lone students slip into a group study room because it has a door and is quiet, while groups spread out on tables on the quiet floor (where even if their conversation is kept at polite volumes, it can distract).

Groups have a resource in that they can reserve group study rooms ahead of time. Lone students do not have an equivalent "just for them" resource. So in planning for future building/expansion of the library, I'd like to include one for them.

What I am considering would be an invitation-only, application-required, need-a-key-or-card-to-access "Silent Study" study room (as opposed to the "Quiet Study" floor). The room itself would have individual study carrels (say, a dozen) and an even more draconian noise policy. Like orkut or freemasonry, access to the room would only be provided to those invited by a current member. The initial invitations would be extended by the library to patrons based on past experience and statistics. Each room member would be able to invite a limited number of new members.

Upon invitation, new members would have to apply with the Circ Desk for access. Things like overdue books or frequent problems with noise would impact their application poorly. They would get a card or key that would allow access to the room.

Room policy would be positively draconian for anything other than quiet study. Cellphones off. No talking. No group work, etc. Members who violate the room policy could lose their access privileges AND the member that invited them would receive some sort of reprimand/demerit that could lead to them being evicted in their own right (so they'd have to be choosy about who they invite).

So my questions:

Is there any other American academic library that offers a similar room or service? If so, is there any literature about it?

If you were a college student, would you want access to this room?

How best to promote the room such that membership spreads equally through the college's many social groups? I don't want this to become a "grad student only" or "accounting majors only" type room.

Can you think of any alternatives? We do not have the staffing budget for professional, fulltime shushers (Plus shushing an MBA group as they work on a project goes against the library's desire to help them with their education) and students of both factions get upset when their needs are not met.

I've already taken steps towards turning the library into a TGI Friday's with the use of buzzing pagers to notify patrons when resources are available ("Dufrane, party of 4, your table is ready..."), so don't have much of a problem of turning part of it into a VIP airport lounge. I just want to know if this idea is worth going to bat for.
posted by robocop is bleeding to Education (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How best to promote the room such that membership spreads equally through the college's many social groups? I don't want this to become a "grad student only" or "accounting majors only" type room.

The only thing I don't like about your plan is the high barrier to entry, and my concern lies with your statement here, because I could see that happening. Anyone who wants to be in there should be able to, but once they're inside, if they don't follow the rules they should be banned. I don't understand the need for invitation-only, though. Especially since the needs of a particular student change with courseload, as you said.
posted by DMan at 7:21 AM on May 1, 2008

i dont know anything about running a library, but the invitation-only thing strikes me as a bad idea. i could be way off base, though.

i understand what you say about budget and staffing, but a patroling shusher to me sounds much better and efficient than the invite-only thing, which surely must somehow impact staffing and the budget? i dunno.

i will say that when i was in school, i thought they handled these issues fairly well by sending somone once or twice every hour to shoo the loners out of the group rooms and to kick the talkers out of the quiet areas.

good luck.
posted by gcat at 7:30 AM on May 1, 2008

I agree with DMan. Why make social fickleness a barrier to better study? That seems quite out of line with the desire to help students with their education.

Personally, I wouldn't bother with the idea, though I really wish there had been something like this when I was in school. Your problem with the "quiet study floor" will probably pop up again in a "silent study room" without someone policing the area, for which you don't have the resources. People will be inconsiderately loud as long as they are allowed to congregate, which of course should not be discouraged.

I think your best and cheapest bet would be to encourage your patrons to complain about any group or person disturbing them in the library. I mean, come on, do people really need to be told to be quiet in a library? Isn't that something we all learn in first grade? Just put some signs up telling people that you actively want them to rat out any loudness in the library and that offenders will be warned and asked to leave if necessary.
posted by Willie0248 at 7:32 AM on May 1, 2008

A couple of ideas: are there group study rooms that do not have to be reserved ahead of time? You don't mention this, but it seems that if there are not enough group study rooms, this could be part of the problem.

I'd also say that you might need to address the cultural issues. If people are just ignoring some people's need for quiet, and these people are college freshmen, it could well be that they just don't think about it. Even if you remind them. Perhaps a few years of draconian penalties plus a strong component of library etiquette in freshman orientation?

I love the idea of the keycard-accessed room. Even if keycards are trivial to obtain, just going through a door into a clearly demarcated area seems like it could make a huge difference to peoples' attitudes.
posted by amtho at 7:32 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Plus shushing an MBA group as they work on a project goes against the library's desire to help them with their education

And disrupting people playing soccer inside the library goes against the university's desire to encourage athletic activity. Tell them to move. The real question is why would the group choose to work on the quiet floor? Are they just being jackasses, are they unaware of the policy, or are there not enough group study areas?

Can't there be at least one person who works on the quiet floor? They don't have to be "shushers" but can you relocate an office to the quiet floor, such as IT or Interlibrary Loan or stack assistance, etc.? Then put up signs saying "If someone if violating the quiet policies, please visit the 3rd Floor Assistance Desk" or whatever. You're going to need someone to enforce the super quiet room anyway, and I wonder if shifting all efforts to enforcing that room will mean that at finals time actual quiet space will be at a minimum since no one's watching the quiet floor.

The high barrier to entry problem is also bad, as some people do not have as many friends or are commuter students. The fact that they are studying alone may be an indicator that they do not know many people. Also notable are freshman, who don't know anyone when they arrive. This may be aided by faculty recommendation, but how big are the class sizes? Switching it to all-access except for violators may work better.

How about this: remove the tables on the quiet floor and replace them with carrels. Why are there large tables on the quiet floor if no one should be talking?
posted by ALongDecember at 7:34 AM on May 1, 2008

maybe the patrol would have less impact on the budget if you focused on more of the 'peak' hours and less on the non-peak hours. not much use kicking someone out of a group room if all the other group rooms are empty, i guess.
posted by gcat at 7:34 AM on May 1, 2008

You know what? Does your school have a psychology department? I bet they could really help a lot. What you have here is a great big social psychology experiment waiting to happen.
posted by amtho at 7:34 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Lighting could also encourage/discourage discussions. The UNC library (near me) has areas with lots of study carrels; I notice that overhead lighting is rather dim (they say to conserve energy), but the carrels have individual lights so that people can see to read/work. The low lighting automatically makes me feel that I should be quieter. Then again, your social psychology folks would probably have some literature to which they could point.
posted by amtho at 7:37 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

On the invitation requirement: One of the best ways we've found to influence student behavior is via their peers. There does not seem to be a lot of understanding on the part of some students as to how their behavior impacts others. "Your behavior cost me the ability to study." does not compute as well as (I hope) "Your behavior cost me access to a resource."

Library staff would be able to invite as many people as they like, so if a pleading student who doesn't know anyone but wants some quiet study space comes to the desk, we can hook them up. I am a bit concerned about the room being too popular (or camped out in) and an orkut-style roll out seemed like a good way to manage things.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:41 AM on May 1, 2008

I really don't like the invitation only aspect. I mean, the people with the most friends (and thus invites) are probably the same ones doing the group studying. Plus, no matter how carefully you select your group of early adopters, its going to end up disproportionately skewed in some way unless you allow unaffiliated members. Allow any interested person to have access, but make them fill out an application, sign something, and have a librarian tell them the rules. Enough barriers to entry will keep out casual users. And revoke access if the rules are broken, obviously.
posted by fermezporte at 7:42 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing that having such a high barrier to entry to these carrels is a bad idea. It makes it all sound rather secret society-ish and has a high likelihood of abuse.
At my university (Cornell), there's a combination of open libraries, group study rooms and carrels. Some of them require reservation in advance, but most don't. I've never seen anyone actively shushing people, but I've never seen anyone being very loud in libraries either.
posted by peacheater at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2008

At my college there were study carrels on all floors of the library. You could apply for a carrel and would be assigned one. You could leave your stuff there, and because this was Davidson and we had an honor code, it would be fine (I mean study materials, books, stuff like that, not your iPod). If you were not in your carrel, someone could sit there, but you could kick them out when you came in to find your carrel occupied.

Becuase the carrels were on all floors, you could choose one on the quiet floor or on the main, talkative floor. This seemed to work as a system, and gave the often outnumbered quiet kids a personal resource. I would imagine you could do a buzzer system if you were at a larger school, and assign on a first come, first serve basis or whatever. It's not a "room," but what it did do was ensure that the quiet floor was full of people who wanted to study quietly, and b/c they basically lived up there, they were their own enforcers to a degree.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:46 AM on May 1, 2008

Seattle Public Library (back before it was that insane wedding cake monstrosity) used to have a "writers room" that was a fishbowl sort of room on the main floor. It had desks with storage spaces that locked and the room itself was accessible only with a key. To get access to the room, you had to have a bona fide writing project that you needed space and resources to work on and being granted access to the room [a little free micro-office in downtown seattle, so great!] was deemed to be a super privilege, one that you would never want to fuck with. I had a carrel there briefly and not only did I treat it reverentially, it was a huge asset to my writing project.

So I'd suggest a combination of what some of the people here have said

- no invitation, just maybe a word of mouth thing to get the application, don't penalize introverts, don't make it snobby seeming
- have people have to re-up every year or semester
- have the place be locked with people needing a key for entry
- serious rules with serious penalties [NO food, NO ipods, NO guests, NO unchecked out books, have people carrell check out books so you can find them] and make a sweep of the room daily for this stuff

Signage that is less "STFU" and a lot more "this is a quiet space for study ONLY" and some explication of what that actually means including "even if you are the only one in here, you are expected to blah blah blah" Enforce it. Word will get out.

You can also use such a room as a sort of not-quite-deep-storage stacks which I think is what SPL did. So, there's lots of cool looking bookshelves that help with sound reduction and general ambience, but the books themselves are old bound periodicals or stuff that almost never circulates. So this way you can alos justify the place as additional storage.
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 AM on May 1, 2008

On the quiet floor: We do stop the soccer games and ping-pong tournies. I'm also dedicating some of my more viscous employees to more enforcement come the fall, but allocating resources is always touchy (some days the desk is really, really busy - is it better to have a shusher or someone checking out books). Plus, this is student labor I'm dealing with - finding the student you can trust to enforce the rules and not just disappear upstairs and take a nap is pretty tricky.

The quiet floor does have big tables, some of which are being replaced with carrels. Even at the carrels, though, we have some group interaction (tutoring, etc) that can be distracting. Thus the more-extreme "Silent Room" where even that behavior is not allowed.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:49 AM on May 1, 2008

At my university (Brown), we have an "absolute quiet room" that is enforced via peer pressure--yes, people actually shush--and via a sign on the door. It seems to work pretty well. And it is honest-to-God silent: not just talking and cell-phones, but laptops and even coughing are severely frowned-upon.

The problem is building the peer-pressure system in the first place, of course, which is the problem you're addressing by the invite system. Nobody's going to walk into "THE Absolute Quiet Room" and start making a racket, but people are perfectly capable of walking into a room with a sign on the door--especially when nobody's there, so rather than disturbing any individual you're just ensuring that the room becomes unavailable for it's intended use.

But if you could just stock the room with enough quiet students at the outset to make a go of it, then maybe you won't need to restrict access once it starts to become established. The great thing about universities is that traditions only take one year: a year from now, a quarter of the undergraduates will feel like that space has "always been there".
posted by goingonit at 7:56 AM on May 1, 2008

Clemons Library at the University of Virginia is almost strictly devoted to study--there's books there, but most of the time you hear of people going there is when they need some guaranteed peace and quiet. It has a couple quiet floors, and there are signs on the doors in the stairwells and the elevators noting which floors are which. I never used it for studying, but given how the rest of UVa was run, I imagine the librarians could be pretty draconian about enforcing the policy. Every time I did ventue onto a quiet floor, it was dead silent.

In addition to the quiet floors, there are group study floors that do have rooms available for discussions and other things. Almost the entire top floor is, or was, a media lounge with TVs where you can rent movies from the library and watch them there.
posted by LionIndex at 7:56 AM on May 1, 2008

Nthing not liking the invitation only thing. Wouldn't that open it up to accusations of discrimination? As much as I hate playing that card - that's exactly what you're doing - discriminating against people without many friends/connections? What about freshman? Transfer students? Somebody with more sensitive issues could quite easily jump to the conclusion (whether justified or not) that their access is instead based on their more obvious differences, and then you're in a whole different ball game. I simply cant see management types being willing to risk opening up that can of worms, for access to a resource that is supposed to be open for all.

What about open access to everyone (after signing in, of course). At first, they're only allowed to a "first-come, first-served" uber-quiet study-carrol area. They get one warning for any infraction, then they're out. After (say) 3 months "trial period", or 10 uses, or whatever, perhaps up the ante and allow them to reserve carrols - ie after they've proven themselves? One infraction in the "reserved" area, and you're back to the first-come pool. Another infraction - buh bye. Basically - people need to earn their additional privileges through good behavior - not via who they know.
posted by cgg at 7:59 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's even a website.
posted by LionIndex at 8:01 AM on May 1, 2008

"The low lighting automatically makes me feel that I should be quieter." Great idea. Single sources of light--like those awesome little green desk lamps--definitely don't lend themselves to group study.

Purchasing fixtures isn't cheap, but how about a room (or floor) that's only full of individual study carrels? Then you have another room (or floor) that's just full of tables. If it's impossible or awkward to congregate in a group, it just won't happen. On the other hand, if it's easy to just "grab a table" then that's what'll happen. You might even be able to use the resources you have, just move all the tables to one floor and all the carrels to another. You could even intersperse them among the stacks if you have enough space. Then you put those little three-fold, standing notices on all the tables that say 'Study groups have preference over individual studies on this floor," and likewise for the carrels-only floor.

(I understand the beat-down of using work-study or student employees to police talkers, or anything at all for that matter. Most of these kids aren't apt even to do their assigned work, much less get all crazy on other college kids. Too funny.)
posted by resurrexit at 8:08 AM on May 1, 2008

You would have to limit the number of students who would be given access to this room in order to give it some air of exclusivity. People who think they have access to a special privilege would be more inclined to follow the rules, at risk of having that privilege revoked.

I don't think invitations are the best way to allow access. You could offer access to only the first X number of applications, with X depending on how big the room is. You could require a minimal usage fee. (Maybe refund the fee if the student makes it through the semester without any violations of the rules.) You could have them write a paragraph on why they deserve access to a silent study room, and choose the best response.

Also, at the large state school I went to, there were many smaller, specialized libraries in addition to the main one for undergraduates. Some of those smaller libraries had study facilities limited to students of a specific major. (I remember the law library in particular would kick you out if you weren't a law student.) So you could limit access to the silent room to students who don't have other official university-provided study areas available to them.

To answer your question, I would definitely have used something like this as a college student. Finding a quiet place to study was right behind scoring cheap beer on my to-do list.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:15 AM on May 1, 2008

Your proposed system seems overly complex, fragile, and costly to maintain. Wouldn't the simplest solution, if you are building out anyway, simply be to to build study rooms for individuals which are too small for group use?

Even if this is too expensive (either financially or space-wise), I'd think you could break a larger room up with cubicle walls (or stacks of rarely-used material as per Jessamyn) to make the room sufficiently difficult or unappealing to use for group collaboration that groups go elsewhere.

(I like the idea of using low light mentioned above also.)
posted by enn at 8:17 AM on May 1, 2008

Another problem with shushers is the mob mentality of the shushed. Just this week, we had someone ask a group of students who were standing under a No Smoking sign near the library entrance blocking it to obey the sign and move around the corner to where the smokers' area is. The group then started swearing at him and threatened him. I imagine a lone shusher trying to quiet a noisy group would experience much of the same (a student worker would be ignored for having no authority, a regular employee ignored the moment their back is turned).

I did some searching around, but could not find any commercial decibel meters that would react to raised voices and set off a light (or something, firehose maybe?) or warning. That could help us be more proactive with our shushing, but setting it up in our library (converted office building) would be a hassle.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:21 AM on May 1, 2008

Second resurrexit's ideas. If you lay out the space so that working in a group is awkward or unfortable, groups won't go there. So your "quiet floor" should have absolutely no tables big enough to get two people at. Carrels are a great idea.

Checkout or invitation systems are only going to discourage legitimate use, and create a chore for your staff too. If you can design the spaces right, they'll suggest and enforce the proper usage on their own. Talk to your social psychology department or architecture department if you have either.
posted by echo target at 8:30 AM on May 1, 2008

At my old college, there was a big room with very clear signs: All noise forbidden. It's been enforced not by staff, but by students. You literally get the stink-eye from the noise of opening a backpack. They key was/is that the room was designated as such from day one, with no room for arguing. You make noise, you're out of the room, end of discussion.
As a result, students who require silent study have found refuge in that room and the quiet faction is much larger than the group faction and it stays that way.
In regards to the furniture arguments, I should note that aesthetically, the room is very open for groups. It's the study atmosphere and zero-tolerance enforcement that makes the difference.

It also helps that the building is huge and has plenty of room for the groups to find room to do their thing.
posted by jmd82 at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2008

The Absulute Quiet Room at Brown was awesome. Freedom from the clacking of keys. I swear I once got glared at for a the *snikt* sound of my mechanical pencil. It was a great thing to have access too.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 8:36 AM on May 1, 2008

I think you should just enforce the rules already in place instead of making up newer rules, which will eventually get worked around, requiring NEWER rules. Otherwise, the people who were following the rules in the first place will get frustrated because they will be forced to jump through ever-more-invasive hoops, and lose respect for your rules. The people who were being disruptive and should know better will continue to apply their own interpretation to whatever system is in place unless it is enforced for real.

There is a quiet floor. It should be quiet. There are group facilities. They should be reserved for groups.

That said, floor/furniture configuration can help make the correct room also the most convenient room.
posted by desuetude at 8:45 AM on May 1, 2008

I can only move around so much furniture and mess with so much lighting. Assume that we'll be doing our best to maximize the space and fixtures.

One thing that we need to remember is that the silent study people are in the minority and we only have so much space. I just did a walkthrough count of the quiet floor and the group people (even taking the study rooms out of the equation) outnumber the lone studiers by almost 3 to 1. Most of the groups on the quiet floor were working together quietly - the only people I hushed as I went by was a girl talking about a pair of Awesome Jeans and a guy talking about seeing Craig T Nelson on the street this morning (I did too, what a magical presence!). In the more carrel-populated area of the floor things were much quieter, but they were not silent.

I know from patron feedback that there is a demand for Silent Study, so I'd like to provide it as an extension of the quiet floor, just as a group study room is an extension of a large table. If Group People have a place in the library where they can go to be as groupy as they wannabe, I want to have a place where lone studiers can get their silence on.

So I agree that the invitations/references are a bad idea for launching the Silent Room. What would be a better alternative?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:02 AM on May 1, 2008

Don't underestimate the support that the silent study folks need. College is full of places for folks to get together and socialize or work in groups. If they need books, they can take them out from the library and work somewhere else.

On the other hand, the library is quite often the only quiet place on an entire campus that a student can visit without risking the wrath of the security detail.
posted by explosion at 9:18 AM on May 1, 2008

Make sure each study space is clearly marked as silent-study or group-friendly in stairwells, elevators, and on the tables/carrels. People forget what's appropriate, and you want to be able to point to a sign that says "Silent Study Only" or "Group Work Allowed in this Area" when you're enforcing the rules. If "silent" to you means no laptops or headphones, put that on the sign too. Some people might think it just meant "no talking".

As someone who liked to study alone but did better in a non-silent environment, I don't think you need to (or should) specifically reserve the tables for groups. Just put a sign up indicating that groups can work at the tables, and people wishing for silence should try floor X or Y instead.

As for enforcement within your silent room, you can cultivate a culture where students report inappropriate noise by making sure that expectations are clear, and by enforcing the rules without fail when students complain. Post signs warning that you have a zero-tolerance policy toward noise in the silent study areas, and on those same signs ask people to report noise. Maybe you could even include a nearby phone to the front desk, or a button people could push, or something that would call a library employee without the bothered students having to trek down the stairs to get you. When noise is reported, have the noisy students escorted out of the silent study area (or maybe even out of the entire library), no questions asked. Tell them they can come back and study in the group study areas on floor A or B, but silent study areas on floor X and Y are for silent study only.

I feel like it would be easier (and more verifiable) to get a recalcitrant work-study student to escort a person out, than to have them "patrol"/sleep or just shush. Shushing only works until the shusher is out of earshot, anyway. Escorting people out really gets their attention. And your lazy worker will have to come back to their checkout-desk job immediately afterward, so you don't lose them to a nap in the back of the stacks.

As for how to let people into the silent study area without the invitation system (which I agree is a bad idea) - can you just make it first-come, first-served? I don't feel like you would even need a lock on the door, just a sign saying "This room is for silent study only. No laptops, no headphones, no talking, even if you are the only person in the room. If these rules are not being followed, please talk to someone at the desk and offenders will be escorted out." Once people are studying in the room, momentum will keep the place silent. If it's empty and a group decides to move in, the first student who comes by looking for silence can get them kicked out.
posted by vytae at 9:22 AM on May 1, 2008

I have a vague memory of my local, public library having closet-sized study rooms. I think the doors were locked and you had to request a key or a pass from a librarian to access them. I was a rambunctious little kid at the time so I had no use for them, but I would've loved them in college.

I'm not sure if this would be a better alternative (and maybe this is just a distorted childhood memory and they never really existed), but perhaps a handful of study closets on each floor would give those Solitarites their own private bubbles of silence without taking up too much space. I don't think you'd need invitations or references; you could just check them out and reserve a block of time.
posted by thewrongparty at 9:24 AM on May 1, 2008

Most libraries have a security guy, who wanders about keeping an eye on laptops, rowdy students, etc. I'd say that sushing should be his job, not the librarian's.
posted by washburn at 9:31 AM on May 1, 2008

Put inspiring signs up around the quiet areas. Patrol the areas every so often and gently escort people out of the library for talking if it's in the quiet area. Even if they sneak back in, that's embarrassing and memorable.

Could you also fit some study carels on other floors that mostly house books? That provides more room for students who come to the library alone.

lone students slip into a group study room because it has a door and is quiet, while groups spread out on tables on the quiet floor

Any chance of being able to switch these (give [some] rooms with doors to quiet study and give the open floor over to groups)? I think being surrounded by noise would be a lesser problem for people who come to collaborate than for people who come for quiet, so I'm not sure why the collaborators are the ones who get private rooms with doors.
posted by trig at 9:32 AM on May 1, 2008

One possibility for establishing a Culture of Quiet in a new silent study room: in the first semester or three, make the room available only to students working on senior theses or RA'ing for professors. Then advertise that the room is "now available to any student who needs quiet study conditions" and make them fill out an application. If you do this at mid-year, hopefully the established "residents" of the silent study room will feel invested in the silence of their "territory" enough to put peer pressure on the newcomers, and the newcomers may regard the silent study room access as more of a privilege and not take it for granted. Then the trick will be to get that culture to perpetuate from year to year.

If you're going to have both a quiet floor and a silent study room at the same time, be really clear about spelling out the distinct rules governing each space: e.g. cell phones and talking are banned on the quiet floor, but cell phones, music on headphones, laptops, talking, and crunchy foods are banned in the silent study room. I think one risk of the silent study room is that even with such clarified rules, people are going to assume that since the silent study room exists, it's OK to make noise on the "quiet" floor, because anyone who wants it really quiet can go to the silent study room.
posted by Orinda at 9:47 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

the group people outnumber the lone studiers by almost 3 to 1. Most of the groups on the quiet floor were working together quietly

Wait, does your current "quiet" floor allow talking? How are they working together quietly? Sorry if this is obvious. If your current quiet floor somehow means whisper floor and is enforced as such, then that needs to be changed.

If your current number of quiet students is very low, then a separate room would be a great idea since a floor seems to be too much space. I love Orinda's idea of piloting it with those writing theses to create a "culture of quiet."

Random thought: Noise canceling headphones available at the circulation desk? (Do those work?)

I also want to thank you for attempting to keep a library a quiet space.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:24 AM on May 1, 2008

Just a data point for your information.

I went to Dartmouth College, and people tended pretty much to police themselves. While writing my senior honors thesis, I spent an ungodly amount of time in the various libraries around campus, including the main one where most people would study for various things. The majority of our floors were "quiet" floors, and I never seemed to see a problem. Beyond the usual "It's finals, and I'm going to run naked through the floors screaming" issue, it was usually under control.

Most people tended to do "group" work in either the large rooms, or in other places on campus. Our "Commonground" - equatable to a student union at other universities - also had a bunch of individual rooms that you could use for various things. One even had a piano (great for someone like me, who was studying music, but didn't want to be in a practice room all the time just to use a piano).

It sounds like there's not enough room in general. See if you can't work out a deal with other building around campus to allow students to use them after hours, or during other times. All of our buildings were open until at least 10pm, so you could go into almost any classroom and just sit in the corner to read, if you really needed to be alone. That should get only people that need to use books into the library.

The library shouldn't be the default study space - it should be the default place to go if you happen to need books. Give them more options, and see if you can't co-op some more space from other buildings.

If this isn't possible, then a super duper super secret quiet location is probably necessary. But that's going to involve constant policing by both the students AND the staff. If y'all have a library orientation, then make sure that's noted. Trust me - the minute people realize that the room is the super quiet area, the type of people that love it will flock to it.

Good luck!
posted by SNWidget at 10:43 AM on May 1, 2008

Is there a truly silent place in any city in Western Civilization? The libraries in my school never had a quiet problem, it was just spread out over multiple floors and the bookshelves were expansive and the tables for sitting and doing projects were spread out amongst the facility so that there was never really any that were very close together --- noisy people were generally far off or could be shushed by giving them a stink eye. I don't live in a region were people are particularly loud and boisterous so this helps.My experience also comes from days when not everyone carried around a PC and portable music devices were less popular; so I wouldn’t be too surprised if it has become worse.

That said, I would be inclined to manage the expectations here of quiet - I can't think of another place in an urban setting that can provide this kind of quiet; so I am not sure a student who requires absolute quiet is well equipped to deal with the barbarians who inhabit the world outside of academia. Sure, a student might be studying brain surgery techniques and require absolute concentration but there is no way they would be able to practice the technique in the wider world. Food, drink, music, loud conversations, and laughter (hushed conversations are probably okay) are probably out of line but if I worked in this library and people were complaining about what is essentially the ambient noise of civilization I would be inclined to give them a “suck it up, princess” followed up by suggestion to check out the books and find somewhere that can accommodate their preferred working conditions; my university usually didn’t lock classrooms and you could just pop into an empty one if you were inclined towards quiet study or needed to hold a noisy meeting. Maybe the university needs to designate a couple of rooms for student meetings.
posted by Deep Dish at 11:03 AM on May 1, 2008

Or library has tiny rooms you can reserve for groups, with white boards and everything. If you want a slightly noiser space group you can go to the study hall, but otherwise it's silence and both desks.

If you're having trouble with people making threats when rules are enforced, you don't need a better system, you need campus security. Getting booted from the library and banned for a month (even if it is finals) should remind people that violent behaviour is not acceptable.
posted by Phalene at 11:58 AM on May 1, 2008

At my last library, the design was so poor that the least little bit of noise carried up to the ceiling and then bounced all the way around the building. It didn't matter if you whispered, everyone could still hear you. So in addition to the quiet study rooms, we provided free ear plugs. They were quite popular, especially around finals.

I know how insane it used to get dealing with students reserving the study rooms, so I shudder to think of some kind of special invite only silent room with keys that students would inevitably lose.

I think if you had a new silent study room it would be best to open it up at the beginning of the semester, make a lot of posters for it and get something in the school newspaper to promote it. Your early adopters will probably end up being the best enforcers of the silence.
posted by Biblio at 12:46 PM on May 1, 2008

I've been desperately seeking silent spaces on my own campus for quite some time - I'm glad that it's summer now and most of the undergraduates have left me and the library in peace (I just realized I'm glad that I'll be spending the summer in the library...).

A silent room would be great - but you should really try to sell it as a privilege. Make it a nice room, with big open tables (behind a carrel, I've found here, people feel like they can get away with more in terms of munching or whispering in the library - big tables means that kids will stare each other down for the slightest infraction), individual lights (in the center of the tables?), and, if possible, massively high ceilings. Seems like the more crowded a room *feels* the more crowded it gets with noisy students.

The quietest place on campus here is the library in the faculty of religion - it's tiny, but it's coveted for its nice wooden tables, comfy chairs, big windows and lots of natural light. The room also has a "no shoes" policy (in Montreal in the winter, things get dirty fast when you track in the snow) which makes it more of an ordeal to get into the room, and seems to keep out casual passersby. They also have a librarian who's generally cheery, but personally silences anyone that makes any kind of a disruption. He gives you a whole big speech and everything. Once you see one kid get embarrassed by the personal attention, the rest of the library is silent for hours.

Good luck with this!
posted by Herman Hermanson at 1:31 PM on May 1, 2008

Maybe people aren't aware of their studying options. In addition to signs, can you make a map of the different spaces available and the behaviors expected in them? Otherwise, all they know is that they are in the *wrong* place.
posted by unknowncommand at 3:03 PM on May 1, 2008

One thing that we need to remember is that the silent study people are in the minority

Just a point: could that be because silent study people give up on going there?

And everyone's already beat to death the use of furniture and lighting, but could you even keep the tables grouped together far from the carrels, if those are on the same floor?
posted by dilettante at 3:12 PM on May 1, 2008

How about a $5 entry fee? Works for Metafilter. Sort of.
posted by proj08 at 8:36 PM on May 1, 2008

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