From an average undergrad's perspective, the ideal "library" is probably something more like a WeWork.
Grad students and researchers have different needs, though.
Ha! Funnily enough I left WeWork because of their incessant need to blast music ALL... THE... TIME. During the times when I needed to really hunker down and grok hard material that required hours of intense focus, I would end up going to the nearby library.
That said, I agree with the sentiment of your comment. The local library is packed with students throughout the day because of the availability of desks/seated areas.
Either way, that sucks. I need absolute quiet or white noise to concentrate. That would be the absolute worst work environment (Well, okay, maybe not the worst. Working as a slave on a roman war galley that was on fire and I was chained to the bench would be worse, but it would be a close second).
I can deal with background chitchat since I can tune that out but hearing music I can't stand to listen to is really hard to ignore, especially when they jack up the volume! I don't know why the insist on having music always playing, people have left the co-working space because of it. At times it felt more like a frat party than a serious place for people to get work done.
Interestingly that relates to one of the few acoustic design points I remember from an architecture paper I failed decades ago.
The point was about Libraries, and how you shouldn't design their acoustics to be as quiet as possible. When something is really quiet, small noises like someone getting up can be very disturbing. While if you design them to have an audible but muffled background murmour where details/sources can't be picked out subconsciously, people will be disturbed less when sounds do happen.
I know...I know.
Some idea really should be described as "brainfart".
I think that WeWork has really set a bad precedent here. It was the first coworking space I toured that seemed to be pushing itself as more of a social space than a place to hunker down and get some work done. Since then, though, pretty much everyone seems to be headed in that direction.
I on the other hand need noise-canceling headphones and a confined private workspace to feel really productive. To each their own I suppose!
This is a common complaint today, but maybe I’m weird, I just don’t need it. I can work with a jackhammer outside the window, or an office mate picking their toenails five feet away. When I was a kid, my Dad and I played “the artillery game”, where I would shout answers to simple math problems with music or the radio blasting. Sure I don’t like either of those things, but I can still get my stuff done. Demanding absolute stillness and silence is a bit complainy.
I've never been able to study at home. I don't know what it is. But in libraries I'm totally in the zone.
It's unfortunate because library hours are so limited. I'd love for there to be a 24 hour library that always had enough seating.
I actually had an idea starting a private membership 24hr study space that would serve primarily as a quiet study space for students. Tables, wifi, strict rules on noise...essentially using the gym business model. But I'm broke and know nothing about running a business but we can all dream.
I loved the 24 hour room back when I was a student. It was super quiet and was so starkly ugly you had no business being there unless you were getting some serious schoolwork done.
Social/peer pressure? Knowing you're accountable to others around you? I don't know about a library but for sure occasionally doing war-room at work makes me very productive (though often not directly on the thing we're war-rooming about).
Spoken like someone who never took a humanities course.
Though the library system does have some nice places to work :-) I confess I’m more of an ambient social space worker these days. If I want solitude and quiet I can get that at home.
It was so they could DRM and/or change the content every semester to earn the school more money.
The worst is when the Prof makes their own online book required. $90+ a pop, and you can't resell at the end of the semester.
Also, there's no substitute for the feeling you get from working next to a stack of physical books.
Yes, access to the more obscure literature like the Springer books for advanced math, or highly specialized history books (such as a history of Ottoman naval warfare) is pretty essential at the graduate or later level.
But then, I remember I got half way through a copy of, I believe it was:
"Narrative of the expedition of an American squadron to the China seas and Japan, performed in the years 1852, 1853 and 1854, under the command of M.C. Perry"
Francis Lister Hawks
As tangentially related to the year of Japanese I studied. Had to go to the library to read it - copy was too old and rare for me to take home (which was part of why I only got halfway through - but seeing that it's 600 pages I don't feel quite so bad about that).
Ed: looks like it is available at archive.org - not as nice as the physical book, but for the curious:
(looks like two different sources?)
I once had to look for the media impact of a 1987 trial, and behold, they had the microfilm.
Let's take a moment to remember that we could digitize all this but that stupid copyright laws makes it forbidden.
I hope we manage to reform these before these libraries stop getting funded.
This was not my experience after the first 18 months. Maybe things are different than they were in the 80s. Or maybe my school was different (we had a lot of cross-functional projects), or maybe my professors were humoring me by letting me design my own upper-level (but under-grad) curriculum ... but I spent a LOT of time in the library. Sometimes to pull textbooks, but mostly to pull journal articles that described similar or adjacent research. (Or maybe I was a weird kid? That's definitely possible - but all the engineers at our school were weird kids, so I wouldn't have picked up on it.)
> Plus, a growing body of evidence shows that physical books and papers are more conducive to learning than digital formats are.
I'd also agree with the article's point that getting face-to face advice from a librarian can be a lot more helpful for research than crawling through the internet by yourself - especially of you're an undergrad.
I fell for this trap in my freshman year, but by my second year of undergrad i discovered that even though the syllabus might say i had to buy textbooks, the library actually did have copies of pretty much everything i needed.
Oh god. Somewhere you probably just spawned a demon idea: WeWork-style partnerships with universities to build "co-working" spaces on-campus.
JK - but probably not!
Once I found out about the university library reserve system I cut my textbook budget in half. It was something first-gen, broke college students aren't told about that would have saved them from spending on books they only needed occassionally.
I was successful in not buying a single book throughout all of university - and it wasn't because I used the library. Everything you need is out there. Note: I didn't buy a single book because I could not afford it
In one case, a professor used a book he had written for a programming/algorithms course. "I'll make sure the library gets a bunch of those before the first homeworks are due." And sure enough, they had enough for everyone in class.
Fix your education system. Seriously, it's embarassing.
Huge libraries of books may possibly be obsolete at large universities, especially for undergrads. But when I went to school, I found immense value in my schools access to periodicals. I read them voraciously and learned how to quickly read (and later write) technical articles. It quickly became clear they were instrumental with staying up to date with the state of the art.
It’s a pity that most of these academic periodicals are out of reach for everyone outside academia, they are the closest we have to true source material.
To be honest I pity college students who never have the need - or even worse, the desire - to get books from their college library.
Unless you're majoring in classical latin, but then again, what piece of information is not digitized already? If it's not, the first user to come across that in academia should do just that.
All of my information is on my computer, and I didn't need to write down anything for almost a year now.
Digitization done well costs money and man-hours, and most humanities departments are not exactly flush with cash and manpower.
RE Latin / Classics when I was doing classical studies in 6th form in the UK I wanted to do some additional reading.
A well known eccentric classical scholar (G M Lee) used to have his personal desk set up with all the books he needed.
I had to get my Mum who worked at the library to ask the county librarian to ask him if some one else could borrow some of the books.
One time for a club I did need to find an SAE standard, and that might have been the one time I ever checked out a book for non pleasure reading.
anyway im sure that still happens a lot. in my limited experience people also depend on maintaining and sharing pdf banks
One particular project involved correlating & comparing prison funding & criminal recidivism with education spending in the state I was in. Books held nothing on this, and the government documents section massive, dense & daunting. The reference librarian saved me many hours of work by getting me directly to what I needed, and suggesting other resources as well.
The internet has made casual research extraordinarily easy, but it's like an 80/20 split. The average person can get 80% of the way there, but these reference librarians are professionals in their field, with all the connotations that being a "professional" comes with.
A recent example: an artist friend of mine was looking for images of historic aircraft using various common image search tools (Google image search, Flickr, etc). The result skewed toward specific models of planes and from a small set of angles. These results were unsatisfying as they were searching out references for an animation project where they needed a broader set of planes from a greater number of angles.
When they told me about this problem, I, having more experience with academic and special libraries, pointed out that institutions like the National Air and Space Museum and military colleges were likely to have their own digital collections of airplane photography that are not well indexed (or at least represented) in tools like Google. We spent a few minutes searching together, and sure enough, we found a much better reference set in the digital collections of these institutions, as well as indexes of similar resources put together by their librarians.
I only did one year of law school, but taking this piece of advice (swap in Lexis/WestLaw/Bloomberg for Google) was a massive win. The librarians at the law library were so knowledgeable, and there was no rule against them using prior experience with the exact question to help the student out. They could also understand why you wanted a particular source.
Example: "I'm looking for the most binding precedent for random set of issues, as well as the 10 most recent cases that discuss the issue at hand. Also, are there any other sources or cases you know of that would be particularly relevant to the issues I mentioned?"
Lexis: Can probably find most binding precedent if you're good at navigating/filtering. Can definitely get you the 10 most recent cases, but you'll have to read them all to judge how useful they are . Can definitely get you other sources, but you'll have to do a general search and read through pretty much everything to filter. This will probably take at least a day just to collect everything and filter it to what's useful.
Law librarian: Might know the right precedent off the top of their head. If not, is an expert in Lexis and can find it much faster than you. Same for recent relevant cases. For other sources, not going to be able to get you a comprehensive list, but likely immediately knows of 5-10 places that are highly likely to be relevant. This will probably take 2 hours, max.
Ideally, if we could afford it, this would be how everything is learned; students would progress several times faster than they currently do.
This is one of the reasons that computer programming is such a joy to learn about. Have something you’re stuck on? Go ask on IRC (or stack overflow or a mailing list or whatever) and get an answer from an expert right away, instead of hunting around blindly for a few days.
When we build communities of people who all “cheat” together by helping each-other learn things fast, critiquing each-others’ work, riffing on each-others’ ideas, etc., everyone gets to the cutting edge much faster, and the whole field marches forward.
I feel like libraries try to do too much all in the same space. The computer people bug the 'study-ers' with their typing, clicking, and audio. The printers are loud and disruptive. The desks are sprinkled throughout the aisles of books, wherever space could be found -- which makes it harder to navigate around to find the books you need. There's no need to be surrounded by books once you've gotten the one you need.
They're forcing 3 entirely different sets of people into the same space. If people are visiting with 3 different goals just separate the space according to those goals. Have a dedicated and separate computer lab, a dedicated room to rows and rows of books, and a dedicated room for studying -- with side rooms for group studying.
It also had a dozen floors of stacks in a tower with little tables and cubicles shoved in on the edges and near the elevator because as you said, the shelving muffles noises.
It just seemed so sub-optimal to me.
Perhaps it's more of a small-to-mid university problem.
College Administrators are responsible for much of what is wrong with modern college campuses. Virtually all the growth in expenses go to these dweebs, who sit around dreaming up new ways of feathering their beds while producing a generation of morons.
I used to use the local college business library quite a bit; they sent literally all the books to storage and turned it into a glorified open office plan. One among many reasons they'll never get another nickel from me.
No one is able to connect to it on the first try. Some laptops work via airplay, others not at all. I haven't seen a windows user successfully connect to the display (it involves connecting to a room specific wifi network, connecting to an IP address, and typing in a constantly changing password).
Some laptops work in the morning when the prof tests the room and not in the afternoon when the prof holds the class. The previous connected users screen will remain frozen on the display and sometimes, when you connect your laptop, it will move into a split screen configuration with the frozen display of the last user taking up half the screen real estate.
And best of all is that IT got rid of all the wired connections because some salesman told them that this was better than what has been working perfectly for the last 15 years. It is now October and the situation is not any better than during syllabus week and IT has absolutely no idea what to do.
I recall using a library book for research once. Other than that, I made use of the public computers to work on projects that were stored on Google Drive.
On North Campus, CS majors had two major study spaces: the Beyster computer lab/atrium, and the Duderstadt Library. Course staff would provide office hours in Beyster, and if you wanted to study in a more collaborative environment, that was the place to be. Duderstadt had a mix of collaborative spaces (in closed rooms) and quiet workspaces (the benches near the stacks). I studied in both locations, depending on my needs at the time. Was a pretty effective setup.
then browse those books for the next 5+ hours. Really used to get the gears of the brain moving. Of course this was also before the internet and before having any money and after 5 hours I was lightheaded, starving, and not necessarily sure what I was going to eat - but in a good way for me.
The homework problems? Who the hell gives grades for homework problems? The only person you're cheating by copying the solution is yourself, because you aren't going to learn the material well enough to pass a test on it.
It was also cold - I find most libraries to be warm and stuffy which makes me drowsy and unable to concentrate.
The traditional library had about 10 stories of "book stacks" with quiet areas to study and lots of tables. Unfortunately, each floor only had one conference room and there was a lot of competition for room reservations. The downstairs common area was mostly workstations, and student services, some places to eat too. I liked this library for my first few years of studying, but I felt like it was really hard to collaborate here.
The new library has a ridiculous number of conference rooms which is amazing. Lots of white boards that move around, more variety in seating options, some rooms equipped with specialized stuff (music studios, VR dev spaces, 3d printing), and the layout just feels more optimized (there is a dedicated quiet area upstairs that has beautiful views and tons of space too). The wifi and outlet situation is also better at the new one. The biggest downside is honestly that it's so "different" it becomes a tour destination for random people, which can be a distractions.
All that said, the number one draw for me to both libraries: 24-hour access. Being able to work through the night without interruptions is what made libraries so important to my college experience. I actually really miss that, and I miss that one library in particular.
I've already checked out the private Mechanics' Institute library, and I didn't like it. The best thing I've found so far is just going to fancy hotel lobbies.
Maybe try anything but the main branch?
I have lived in Washington, DC, for forty years, and until this had never heard of Webster University. Given the size of Webster (about 2400, it says), and the number of campuses, I wonder exactly how many students were surveyed.
Me and my buddies also built a textbook scanner that saved us a ton of money. ( webcam x2 + buttons + easy page turning mechanism )
I always thought the price of college textbooks were ridiculous and put unfair pressure on a broke college kid like me.
A university library to me is a place which has access to academic material such as journals and various scholarly databases, a good selection of relevant books, a nice place to study, and very high speed internet.
I didn’t extensively use the library during my studies as most of our CS course materials were available for free, but I did use the space a lot. Additionally, whenever I encountered a book that I might want, the library would process an interlibrary loan, or just buy the book. Purchase requests were easy and fast.
I think I bought maybe four text books during a four year degree, and those were the ones I really liked and wanted to keep after I graduated. The rest were just checked out of the library.
How come this isn't possible in the US? Why do you need that one particular textbook and a specific edition and nothing else is suitable? There's no undergraduate subject I'm aware of so specific that there is only one book in existence on the topic - many are suitable. What's the blocker?
depends on the course, major, and school. in my CS major you could pretty easily get away with not purchasing the "required" textbook for most classes unless they assigned problems directly out of the book. even then, professors would often distribute PDF scans of the relevant problem pages. everything you actually needed to know for the exam would almost always be included in the monstrous PowerPoint lectures, so you could just study these if you didn't need extra help understanding the material.
The rarely touched book is a treasure. The study space a concession to the modern student body that lacks any meaningful silent space.
The student sleeping in said study area is a gross oversight by the librarian to ensure the sacrosanct space isn't violated (and, unfortunately for some of those sleeping at the library, another housing failure in S. California :S)
This split-storage model may a sensible solution for other universities going forward: prime and expensive library buildings on-campus can be reserved for quiet study areas and a few commonly-used books, with the main collection of books retrievable from a nearby location where land is less expensive. It also has the advantage of allowing books to be stored in the ideal climate for their preservation.
Fun fact about the Harvard Depository: books are organized not by topic, publication date, or anything resembling the Dewey decimal system, but rather by a metric that makes sense for high-density: physical size. Books are stored in barcoded boxes by height. Here is an artsy documentary, "Cold Storage," about the Depository:
or in interactive form:
However, I wouldn't want the stacks in the main library (doheny) at usc converted to study space. I think there are better rooms to gut for study space, namely the random faculty offices they've shoved in every library. You can build an office across the street from campus if you need the space. The ceiling in the stacks is maybe 6.5' tall, it's musty and the HVAC is deafening, and extends 6 stories down into the earth. I couldn't imagine a more disheartening study environment, but there are some tables and chairs and sad graduate students down there nonetheless.
No, it's not, thank you very much.
Not everyone has parents who can cut a check and send them to college. Some students work their asses off to pay for it.
Those students often schedule their classes such that they all land on Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday. Often they leave home at 6AM and finish up on campus around 9/10PM (or later if they have "group" projects that need to be worked on). There are sometimes big slack spaces in the schedule for the classes they need. Most of them do homework in those times as their time is precious.
However, if they've actually gotten everything done, the most productive thing they can generally do is sleep as it is the thing they are always short on.
But people sleep at the library because there's no other place that will tolerate a person sleeping. Not the coffee shop, not the park, not the student center. Nor, in our very loud society, is there anywhere quiet to lay your head.
But the role of the library isn't to provide the disadvantaged (or more often than not, a person fatigued from excessive entertainment) a place to sleep. It's to provide a sanctuary for study. If you're not studying, you're occupying a (valuable) spot for others.
Note, I'm not referring to 15 min. power naps and the like.
I don't understand "student centers". You'd imagine its a place to do studenting - study! Things like group projects, discussion, debates, ect.
Instead, you're quite likely to see an arcade with the latest VR consoles at the student center.
Video gaming, and the like, are activities that non-students also enjoy. Therefore, there is no reason for the university to provide them. Presumably there are arcades else where in the city.
But, call me old fashioned I guess :S
 The point of the library warehouse isn't to put the near long-tail a day away. It's to put the far part of long-tail a day away. The Main Library should contain most every long tail search any researcher should ever need. The warehouse, therefore, has stuff that is more likely to rot before it is cracked (great carbon sink, to boot)
Sounds to me like the library was failing to enforce some reasonable rules on the purpose of the furniture.
I get it, it's easier to catch a quick nap in a library than other places because they are generally quieter spaces. But if a library's raison d'etre is to be a repository of reference material and a place of quitet study, then rules prioritizing use of the furniture for study over sleeping strikes me as quite fair.
Of course some notions from back then are still silly. One book described a "software engineer of the 1990s" who sat in a lounge chair and described specs out loud to a HAL-like AI, which transmuted them into flawless code. Kinda like George Jetson and RUDI.
At the same time, there was a lot that I preferred to read a physical copy of, and I saved a ton of money by only buying books that weren't on reserve at the library, meaning you could check them out, but only per visit. I also definitely would prefer they remain as a spacious, quiet spaces for study.
Now I can only envision an ebook reader that's made up of a 1000 paper-thin eink panels bound into a book that's A4 size.
When I become king, companies will also have library inspired quiet rooms, like the graduate school library Even rustling sounds get stern looks. Eye contact and other social interaction is frowned upon.
When I become king, we'll also have cafes for students and other laptop campers. Food service and cashier towards the entrance. Library style big rooms with big tables in the back. No public music. No conversations during "dark" hours. No kids. No dogs.
Some photos: https://www.jconline.com/picture-gallery/news/college/2017/0...
When I do need textbooks, I generally buy them instead of checking them out from the library, and most of the reason is that the library isn't open 24 hours a day. 90% of the time I can get by with only using books for class during the day, but if I end up having to pull an all-nighter to finish a paper or a pset, or if I've been procrastinating and need to do the readings for a class after midnight, I'm screwed. It's valuable to me to have the mental overhead free, instead of needing to plan when I'll be able to access the books I need. (As a bonus, it's a good start for building up a reference library, and I can mark up my personal copies however I want, but these are secondary reasons.)
I still use the library for studying, finding materials that I only need once and don't want to buy, and checking out items like USB CD drives. (You can also check out soldering irons and small power tools from our campus libraries.) I also made frequent use of the piano in the music library when studying music theory. But I'd probably use the library a lot more if it were staffed between midnight and 6 am.
The size of the library matters less now.
What has been an issue lately is that the budget cuts do not hit the number of staff or budget for books -- they just shorten the hours -- often, again, in smaller Texas towns and no doubt elsewhere, cutting the hours down to as few as 5 days a week, with hours as short as 9 am to 5 pm or even 4 pm, so that it is often nearly impossible to get there after work or school.
My school was maybe different because we didn't actually any books, we were given printed support for class or just had to take notes during lectures.
Students looking to save money can buy old editions or international editions online, but then have to deal with page numbers, chapter order, and exercises being different than the book used by the rest of the class.
Frustratingly, publishers do this even for topics like calculus, which has not changed a lot since the last edition of the textbook!
But being surrounded by huge shelves of books, gave a sort of muffled/muted ambience that was perfect and hard to find outside of a library. Coffee shops are close, but they're either much noisier or empty therefore all too quiet.
College libraries were the sweet spot for deep work/study for me.
I guess that’s the beauty of IT
The main ugrad library was for napping in between classes.
Later in law school, the only time I did anything with the library was a onetime legal writing 'scavenger hunt' assignment that forced us to use different resources. I studied in other libraries because they were more convenient for me (less crowded)
Acknowledging this and building stuy-centers with real coworking-spaces for group work/stuff, isolated rooms with whiteboards to discuss things and quite study spaces complemented with a café in the basement to take a break would be way better than all the new libraries being built by the universities. Something cozy to read also be great. We have a library that's open for 24 hours a day, every day. I've found this very, very useful and would like to the 24 hours aspect replicated elsewhere.
I have also never bought a single "real" textbook in my studies. The need to buy these hugely overpriced books  has to disappear, which I think will start the real decline of libraries used by the usual students.
 I don't mean books per se, just these massivly overpriced textbooks. The ability to get a small physical copy for a few bucks is great, i always try to get my stuff printed in the university printing-center or just buy the pre-printed script. But some studies force students to buy certain books. This needs to get adressed by the state, at least in germany.
 I would like to see a law that forces every professor paid by public money to make their teaching material accessible for the public to read and to modify, including making the source accessible. I don't get why this is not the case right now.
Such libraries might also help with recruiting new profs.
I'm not defending the added expense, only trying to explain it. Perhaps.
A library is supposed to house knowledge and make it accessible, not primarily to give everyone a study spot. You can always check out a library book and take it somewhere with more seats.
The second process, "weeding the collection", at least can be informed by circulation data as to whether a book has been loaned in the last several years, as well as other criteria such as rarity, historical importance, being part of a special collection, availability from network libraries, and conditions under which it may have been gifted to the library.