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College Students Just Want Normal Libraries (theatlantic.com)
207 points by minnca 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 177 comments

In my experience, most college students really just want a good space to work and study, with a mix of quiet spaces and areas for group work. Undergraduates rarely needed to access the physical books, since they're told to buy almost all the books they need for each class anyway. In 4 years, I think the only books I ever checked out were novels I was reading for pleasure, and I could have easily gotten them from the city library instead.

From an average undergrad's perspective, the ideal "library" is probably something more like a WeWork.

Grad students and researchers have different needs, though.

> From an average undergrad's perspective, the ideal "library" is probably something more like a WeWork.

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.

Do you mean you were working for the company WeWork, or you were working in one of their for rent spaces?

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 was co-working / part-time studying in the co-working area.

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.

I’m pretty much the same way. Ambient people sounds—unless really loud/intrusive—are fine. And I sometimes even probably prefer to silence/isolation. But lose the music unless maybe it’s maybe quiet background instrumentals. I tend not to listen to music when working even when I’m in total control of the playlist and volume.

> I’m pretty much the same way. Ambient people sounds—unless really loud/intrusive—are fine. And I sometimes even probably prefer to silence/isolation.

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.

This is also why I abandoned my quest for 100% silent computers in favor of going for a still very quiet but pleasant timbre.

I can't understand what genius decided that all workspaces have to feel like a shitty club. Who plays music in a place literally called WeWork?

WeWork pivoted from startup idea WeChillAtWork.

I know...I know.


Some idea really should be described as "brainfart".

Isn't the point of WeWork exactly that chatter? It allows for a space where people from different worlds can work in the same space giving a great opportunity for connections. This is all from second-hand hearsay, never actually worked in one.

Don’t get me wrong I’m okay with hearing background chatter for as you said its part of the reason why one joins a coworking space: socializing. I’m was mostly just complaining about the music and loud talking on phones (when they have phone booths)

My coworking space (not WeWork) has also been turning the music up lately. I'm finding that it causes the background chatter to become intolerable, too, since people naturally respond to loud music by talking even louder.

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 bet IWG is still music-free.

Did work at one for a few years, a better name would be WeTalkAboutWork.

Strangely enough I have a bunch of co-workers who swear they can't get things done without music, noises, or chitchat in the background. One in particular is a reformed trader who uses tracks of noisy trading floors as a focus tool.

I on the other hand need noise-canceling headphones and a confined private workspace to feel really productive. To each their own I suppose!

> I need absolute quiet or white noise to concentrate.

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.

We rent an office and the noise is fine unless you have noisy neighbors.

I was strictly commenting on the co-working space. If you rent a dedicated office, there's enough sound proofing where indeed noise shouldn't be a problem.

Oh goodness yes this.

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 think the problem is the unpredictability. At home if I'm not alone I'm constantly waiting for "the other shoe to drop," so to speak so I can't get into the zone. With a place like the library there is a predictable time period of guaranteed peace and quiet.

At UC Davis the Sheilds library has a 24 hour room, and during finals week at the entire library has extended hours.

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.

All I remember about that room was that it was nearly impossible to find a seat during finals (about 12 years ago!). We used to drive to a 24 hour coffee shop in Dixon instead. Nice to get a few miles away from Davis during finals, but even that place was jam packed with students.

> 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.

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).

See: "TK Park" Bangkok for a great example of a private library.

> Undergraduates rarely needed to access the physical books

Spoken like someone who never took a humanities course.

For my library and classes we were more likely to use something like JSTOR than hunt through the racks. The overlap of being common enough to be available but obscure enough to be interesting was fairly low. For example writing about Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey the physical library wasn't much help.

When I do research at one of the local university libraries, it’s almost always just accessing online journals and other digital information. The only reason I have to physically go there is because some of the material is only available if you’re on the campus network.

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.

The sentence in context is that the undergraduates actually have the physical books, and therefore didn't need the library's copy.

I understood the context. What usually happens is students purchase books that are assigned for everyone taking a particular class, then use the library to borrow specific books to complete research papers, criticism etc. on their chosen topics.

Yeah, I was a history major, I would cite 30 plus sources per paper, many of which had never been checked out of the library ever before and weren't available digitally :0

Recently put two kids through college, and there were almost no physical books. Not for student centric needs though.

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.


As a college student who mostly reads ebooks, shelves of physical books at my university's libraries are incredibly useful when writing papers. When I find one book that I can use, there's usually several on the same shelf that I wouldn't have known to search for, but turn out to be really useful.

Also, there's no substitute for the feeling you get from working next to a stack of physical books.

> Grad students and researchers have different needs, though.

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.

Actually, in my entire ~10 years of having been a grad student and then researcher in theoretical physics, I didn't take out books from a library even once! I have yet to come across any material that is not available in electronic form (well, one very specialized book, which I did buy, cut off the spine, and ran through a ScanSnap)

I attended grad school 2003-2009. The first few years I routinely pulled hardcopy at the library. By ~2007 I was able to get everything electronically. Not so long ago, dead trees mattered.

For CS, no. I’ve never had the urge to go through a springer conference proceedings rather than just download the papers I needed directly. Checking out the old outdated books at the engineering library was nostalgic, however.

I remember that it was nice to be able to check out Nelson's computer lib, as it was ridiculously expensive and hard to get hold of second hand. A couple of other classics like Knuth, the smalltalk manual and Forth books is also nice to be able to read in hard copy.

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 , New York , 1856


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?)

You still need advanced math for topics in CS and often the only book is some expensive springer book.

Some maybe? Definitely not my area, we can get all the math we need online in one form or another. Or the math is coming from someone’s paper or online book anyways.

Aren’t all Springer books online at SpringerLink?

Only most of them

Nothing beats a physical library for a joyful adventure in browsing through all the disciplines. An experience I found crucial to my personal development in college, despite carrying my laptop everywhere.

I loved that so much when I first went to college. I remember just walking around and finding out how many different things I didn't know.

Curious undergrads benefit from the books too. I got a lot out of different books' presentations of subjects in undergrad. Read the assigned text first, then look at how the books next to it on the shelf talk about the subject. So much easier than trying to slog through a single version, and you learn more too.

About books, I'd say it is all or nothing. Small libraries books won't be of any use. But when I was in Lyon, the main library is an old institution that contains archives of 100 years of newspapers and scientific publications.

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.

> Undergraduates rarely needed to access the physical books, since they're told to buy almost all the books they need for each class anyway.

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.)

Reading journal articles has been something you do on your computer for quite a while now. The library was tangentially involved in the process (in that you get access to the online journals via the library's subscription) but there was no reason to physically go to the library for it.

The article kind of disagrees with that:

> 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.

If I had to read journal articles, I would download and print the PDF - still paper, but didn't require a trip to the library. It never even occurred to me to go to the library for the hard-copy of the full journal.

Nowadays, journal articles in STEM fields typically are online through library services, public preprint servers or sci-hub.

Things were almost certainly different in the 80s. For instance, the PDF was invented in 93.

>Undergraduates rarely needed to access the physical books, since they're told to buy almost all the books they need for each class anyway.

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.

In undergrad, a couple people in a class would make a mad dash to the library after receiving the syllabus so they could grab the one or two copies of the textbook. I can't recall ever beating them to it.

I agree! I think this need really shines at universities where housing hasn't kept up with enrollment, so common areas are converted to living space, living space becomes more crowded, etc. Squeezes students out of a lot other spaces they might have otherwise used for working, collaborative or otherwise.

> From an average undergrad's perspective, the ideal "library" is probably something more like a WeWork.

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!

The solution is probably to require all public universities to have enough books on hand in their libraries to satisfy all required books for classes. Once that rule is in place, administrators and professors could argue over resource allocations.

> Undergraduates rarely needed to access the physical books, since they're told to buy almost all the books they need for each class anyway.

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.

My university library had most of the "required" books to use for free. Took me a while and some money to find that out, though.

I think the needs of grad students and researchers are highly field-dependent. I'm a mathematician, and I still use the library for older books. (Journal papers, even older ones, are mostly on-line now.) But my colleagues in e.g. biology, where things move a lot faster, don't seem to ever set foot in libraries.

>since they're told to buy almost all the books they need for each class anyway

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

Not sure how this is now, but Germany 10 years ago my professors would either give out lecture notes (reproduced at printing cost locally and/or as pdf) or choose books that the library had.

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.

I found that I could buy books for the semester on Amazon used and sell them back to the school bookstore at a profit pretty consistently.

Then professors started assigning digital homework which you could only access with new books for $200+.

> Undergraduates rarely needed to access the physical books

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.

At least at my liberal arts school checking out books for research for papers was common.

To be honest I pity college students who never have the need - or even worse, the desire - to get books from their college library.

As an undergrad in maths, I spent lots and lots of afternoons browsing my university library and picking many interesting books about everything. Yes, there's the internet, but reading maths on paper is really a different experience, and moreover you don't know what you don't know, so it is not easy to replicate the experience online. And no, they were not required for my courses, but you're not there just to pass the courses, you're there to learn

I remember spending a lot of time in the library reading non-course work academic books and journals. Definitely loved that we had a well stocked library for a developing country.

No, grad students and researcher have the exact same need.

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.

In linguistics, archaeology, and history across a broad span of Europe and Asia, the vast majority of publications (even must-cite references) are not digitized.

Digitization done well costs money and man-hours, and most humanities departments are not exactly flush with cash and manpower.

There's a tremendous amount of information that hasn't been digitized and only exists in print or microfilm. There's no money available to fund the labor and clear the rights to make these works digital.

Books are easier in some ways doesn't need power and you can have several open on a desk at the same time

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.

Do undergraduates at your college not need to do research? I spent a lot of my undergrad time in the libraries looking for books.

Not OP, but I never needed to research anything where I couldnt find what I was looking for on scholar.google.com.

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.

That is one of the reasons specifically mentioned in the article. It's nice to have a quiet space to read and study.

A library, but without the books!


what's with the hostility..

anyway im sure that still happens a lot. in my limited experience people also depend on maintaining and sharing pdf banks

I think the biggest benefit of physical libraries, often overlooked by students, are the professional reference librarians that staff them. I was a competent researcher in college, but if I had difficulties, if the catalog looked like it didn't hold anything I could use, I went to the reference desk, and never was disappointed.

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.

Physical libraries are also great maintainers of specialty digital resources that would be unlikely to be accessible without their presence.

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.

And I think chances are, these reference librarians will have masters degrees! They’re incredibly knowledgeable, and at least every librarian I’ve ever met has been not only good at what they do, but incredibly passionate too. And if anyone’s looking for ways technology and libraries intersect (besides information storage/retrieval), I recommend the Library Freedom Project [1] (I linked to Wikipedia because their main page seems to be blank.) It’s a program that works with libraries to teach librarians about things like digital privacy rights.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_Freedom_Project

it would be very hard to become a university librarian without a master’s degree in library science, and a lot of subject librarians will have two master’s degrees! librarians are a great time-saving tool if you have serious research needs.

Even ordinary city libraries can often help with reading lists.

Absolutely! I didn't mean for my comment to be limited to college libraries, though that's probably how it came across. I first learned to appreciate them growing up in the days when the internet was in its early infancy & even if there'd been good online resources, I was too poor for a computer anyway. My town library was pretty decent, and even had remote access to some of the early content databases.

> “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers,” as the writer Neil Gaiman once said. “A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

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.

This almost feels like cheating. If school staff is helping this deeply, are you actually learning how to research?

The tip literally came from the professor who assigned the legal writing projects, so I didn't really feel like I was cheating. The reason she gave the tip was because she was a practicing attorney who claimed to regularly consult law librarians for help researching a case.

Learning is so much more efficient and effective when helpful experts are available to consult. When students are taught 1:1 by expert tutors their typical performance is literally 2 standard deviations better than students taught in a class. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom%27s_2_sigma_problem

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.

Part of researching is learning to use the tools you have available. Experienced researchers familiar with the domain are wonderful tools.

Exactly. Also, while not their only function, a part of the librarian job description is to help people find the right resource as easily as possible.

Learning to ask the librarian is a critical aspect how knowing how to research.

I feel like libraries should probably be compartmentalized more. A room for the main catalogue of books, a room filled with outlets and empty tables for studying and working, and a room with computers / empty desks with outlets for those who need them + the printers.

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.

I suspect the study spaces are quieter embedded in the shelving areas, than they would be if the same square footage was used to clump all the study space together.

My old unis main library was a model. Massive grand reading room that was dead silent (with felted chairs to keep them silent) and a statue of an angel without a head to motivate you. Open collaborative areas. Computer labs in separate wings.

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.

I hated how the workspaces were nestled in the stacks. at any time during finals about 95% percent of these would be occupied, and I'd have to hunt through the stacks to check each one. infuriatingly, I'd often discover that a table had turned over just after passing it. it would sometimes take twenty minutes just to find a place to sit down and start working.

This was the biggest pet peeve for me. That and you couldn't even really enjoy or use those spaces, because if you spread out at all then you'd be in the way. You'd also have people circling like sharks, on top of the people pushing by to get to the books they need.

It just seemed so sub-optimal to me.

Of all the college libraries I've been in what you're describing is the typical structure I've encountered.

That gives me hope then! I'm up in Canada and all the universities I've visited / attended had the computers right near the librarian (so they could micromanage) and beside all the study desks. It always seemed sub-optimal to me.

Perhaps it's more of a small-to-mid university problem.

I feel like lots of libraries are already organized like this, and the only ones that try to put everything in one room are smaller public library branches. Certainly, the academic library I work at has these activities located on separate floors, and other libraries I can think of off the top of my head, like the Seattle Public Library, also have these activities separated.

When I really wanted to get away from everything in a library, there were always various cubbyholes in obscure corners of the stacks that you could hide in. This worked best in the sections of libraries that were more vertical than spread out though.

For us this was the motorized archive stacks in our library's basement. No one ever went down there, so you could pile up in one of the chairs and work for hours and see only one or two people.

> a library that sometimes looks empty might be a tempting target for administrators trying to maximize the use of space on their campuses,

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.

Last year the administrators decided we needed a new wireless projector interface across campus rather than the standard hdmi/dvi+box of dongles present in every room.

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.

Last time they tried to get a buck from me: they were bragging about building a "twitter like app" so students could ask lecturers questions without raising their hands.

I'd be happy to forgive all of the student loan debt provided we pry it all back from college administrators, who fattened themselves off the federal government loan programs.

The library at my university had four floors and a basement. The higher the floor the quieter you were supposed to be, so you were welcome to talk on the ground floor but would get glares or carefully chosen words on the top floor. I loved this system. If I wanted to work but didn't mind the chit chat then I was fine on the ground floor, but if I needed to concentrate then I could move.

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.

My school's library was similar. The fourth and fifth floors were excellent for when I needed to carve out some dedicated focus time.

Oh wow this is brilliant! I love this concept.

Sounds like the ugli at umich

Fellow UMich grad here. Shapiro library (formal name for UgLi) was always a great place to study because you had plenty of noise isolation from other people, especially the upper floors.

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.

I'm a CS student in the UK and one of my favorite parts of my university is its library. I will sometimes go in there between lectures, just to browse the shelves aimlessly and enjoy the peace and quiet. In the past I have found myself perusing books of haiku and the like - things unrelated to my course which I would be unlikely to encounter online or anywhere else in any non-superficial way. I certainly don't want it to become a trendy makerspace or ideas lab or anything of that nature.

the thing I love most about really big high quality university libraries is the ability to go find a place somewhere in the back of the stacks, and then to walk around finding a collection of a dozen books that sound interesting of themes you like but are not necessarily conversant with.

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.

Intermittent fasting before it was cool

Some school libraries don't even have the required course textbooks. A community college I went to did have 1 or 2 copies of required course text books, you just couldn't check them out of the library. 4 year university did not even have them, making sure you paid for a personal copy of your course books from the university book store. It seemed really strange a library wouldn't have the books students needed most.

Textbooks go out of date too quickly to meaningfully contribute to a collection. This is (of course) by the design of publishers to wring as much money out of students as possible.

Did some fundamental part of the Calculus I curriculum happen to change in the past 2 years? What about that course material makes it go 'Out of date too quickly', and requires a new edition?

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.

Also, it would require faculty members to actually tell the library what textbooks they're using each term. One might be surprised at how rarely and inconsistently this happens.

At our university, you are required to submit a reading list when the course is ratified, and each year after that. Students complaining that the library didn’t have the books would come back to bite you as the lecturer did not telling the library which books to have.

It has to be at the hand of the publisher, otherwise how would the info in the books be up to date enough to grant a degree on top off? The work you did a as a freshmen, would be useless by sophomore year and no one would ever graduate because their knowledge wouldn't be applicable.

I used to go and work at our City's Cathedral library: access was free to students, it was in an awesome building about 700 years old and most importantly didn't have WiFi so there was no distraction :)

It was also cold - I find most libraries to be warm and stuffy which makes me drowsy and unable to concentrate.

Originally libraries were cold because fire and books don't mix well, and they needed massive windows because fire was the only other way to light them.

The college I attended has an interesting dynamic in this area. The way the university is laid out, there is a historical "main" campus with a very traditional library, and a much newer "engineering campus" with a very new and modern library. Both buildings are massive and used extensively, but I definitely preferred the modern one - even if some features of it were kinda cheesy (the massive basement with a book-fetching robot being one that was cool in theory - but not often used).

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.

Michigan? This seems to exactly describe that.

North Carolina State actually - Hunt Library in particular (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_B._Hunt_Jr._Library)

I'm not a student anymore, and I would love to have access to a decent library where I could actually focus for hours at a time. Anyone have any recommendations in SF? I'm happy to pay.

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.

I would expect any public university library to be open to the public. Consider trying UCSF or SFSU.



Ahh one of those reservable group study rooms would be perfect. I wonder what's the least I'd need to spend to get UCSF student status for access. Probably not an option until I have an employer that has tuition reimbursement as a benefit. In the meantime, I'll check out the other UCSF/SFSU libraries. Do you have any recommendations?

Libraries often limit use of group study rooms to groups, even with student status you may not be able to use them individually. The spaces that indicate they are open to the public and are categorized with the "considerate" noise level would probably be much quieter than the hotel lobbies you're currently using, and you can access them now, without student status.

all SF residents can become a CCSF student for free, or with minimal fees!

I miss my university's library. It was such a great place to go focus, and I had access to all those books at my fingertips. Actually make sure I always visit when I go back up to do my own personal research and get some focusing. Sometimes, I'll even schedule trips there if there's something I need to focus on. Just quiet and focused and I love it because of that.

What's wrong with the SF public library?

Maybe try anything but the main branch?

If I was a college student I'd just want them to focus their technology spending on eliminating noise. The library for me was just an escape from the constant stimulus of being on campus

"A 2016 survey of students at Webster University in Washington, D.C., also illustrates limited use of digital resources, finding that just 18 percent of students accessed e-books “frequently” or “very frequently,” compared with 42 percent who never used them."

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.

1085 students, 226 staff.

In college, IRC chat rooms with bots serving books from an FTP server were a life saver. I don't think I bought 5 books throughout my entire college career.

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.

One of the essential features of a university library as far as I’m concerned is to actually have on hand a sufficient number of copies of the books required for each course. This was done very well at my university in the UK, but from what I’ve seen in the US, students are expected to buy (oftentimes many) books for each of their courses. I have a problem with that in the days of high tuition and bloated administration. Libraries should not be profit centres.

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.

Courses at university in the UK (or at least mine, and at least when I did it) don't really have textbooks. You are advised to read three or four books during the course, but there isn't one single book that you absolutely must have. Lectures had notes, and referred to those three or four books and you could find relevant material in each, in basically any edition.

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?

> How come this isn't possible in the US?

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.

IME the US profs like to assign problems from the book and follow the chapters pretty closely. So editions often had reworked problems or fixed typos. On rare occasions a professor was kind enough to let people using older editions know the differences and let them use older ones, but it was definitely more work for the professor than just expecting everyone to have the same book and problems.

The biggest problem I always had with the library at my alma matter (ucla), was that thousands of square feet dedicated to books people rarely ever touched while simultaneously failing to have even proportional amount of space dedicated to desks. Furthermore, any furniture frequently doubled as people's bed away from home.

The purpose of a library is not to have books people are sure to read, but to have references people might need. A (good) library is necessarily a long-tail institution.

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)

Indeed; a good library is a long-tail institution. The Harvard Library system has a large collection of books at the various on-campus libraries, but an immense catalog of infrequently accessed books at a "depository" warehouse off-site. Scholars can request items from the Depository and receive them within a day.

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:


Pretty much every library has an off campus facility for books. USC has a warehouse on grand avenue. Not sure where UCLA's book repository is, but it is definitely somewhere.

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.

Stacks is exactly the place that came to mind when I was writing my comment.

> The student sleeping in said study area is a gross oversight by the librarian

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.

If you want to argue for nap rooms, I'm all in. Let's cut the "increase our stadium" tax on tuition to fund it.

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.

Yea I get that, but is it the purpose of the main library in the center of campus? In fact UCLA has an entire library (Southern Regional Library) that is dedicated to rare and old books. It's completely empty and is where I would go to study lol

Yes! That's exactly the point of the main library [1]! To do other student activities is the point of the student center!

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

[1] 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)

> Furthermore, any furniture frequently doubled as people's bed away from home.

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.

Enforcement wouldn't solve any problems here, it would just antagonize the students. The underlying problem that needs to be addressed is insufficient space to work or nap between classes.

It might antagonize the students who are looking for a place to nap, but is that all of the students? I think other students might be happy to have their library available to them as a library again.

I propose a hybrid solution: We add more space for study and naps, while simultaneously antagonizing the students.

I used to love camping out in my college library. The old computer science books were some of the most fun to leaf through. It may seem comical to a methodologist of today, for whom Agile is the end of history and Object-Oriented Design the pinnacle of human achievement, to read about Jackson Structured Programming, but JSP was the cutting edge of enterprise development in the 1980s and really helped a lot of people deal with tricky data flows in a systematic abstract way.

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.

Personally, I want a traditional library with physical books, as well as ample digital access. I did research in college involving attempting to find and summarize every mention of a particular topic by a Congressperson during the 1970s. This meant I grabbed the (massive) books of Congressional minutes, checked the indexes, and paged through them for weeks. I could have done this in days with a digital archive.

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.

It took me some time to realize this, but now I wholeheartedly agree with the argument that physical paper is better for reading.

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.

We need more quiet spaces. Not everyone is an extrovert. And even us extroverts occasionally need some head's down time.

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.

It is true that as a comp.sci student, I did most of my reading online. But one of the best things about library for me was to get a tour of all the other discipline books. See what students from other branches were studying and look at their library books. This is definitely much richer experience than just going crawling on the web. It was also a quiet place to study and prepare for tests/exams. It was also the place where we got all our printing and photocopying done. I don't see these needs going away no matter how much we rely on our connected phones, tablets and laptops.

My alma mater, Purdue, built a giant building that was simultaneously a library, a collection of very large lecture halls/classrooms, and a study space. Lining the exterior walls of the building were classrooms. And in between, the majority of the building is essentially an open floor plan study space with no separation between the floors (since the center of the building is an enormous unenclosed staircase and large unenclosed stairwells lined every wall). Consequently, the entire building (aside from the enclosed "library space" and classrooms) was useless for quiet studying. My school shut down 3-5 smaller libraries (all of which were super cozy and quiet, albeit dated) and to form this new library building. The new building is much more aesthetically pleasing, but it's a much worse study space in my opinion from the traditional, drab university library.

Some photos: https://www.jconline.com/picture-gallery/news/college/2017/0...



I'm at a school where most classes have all of their materials online for free. Usually a professor will post lecture notes and/or slides online and recommend an optional reference textbook.

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.

It is possibly the fondest memory I have of college life. Years wandering through stacks, finding things I never would have seen otherwise, some of which I hold on to still.

And one of the fondest memories of childhood. I grew up in a small Texas town where I could check out things in grade school itself. While I had some mishaps like checking out Jaws at 6 years old and having nightmares thereafter, on the whole I think libraries are an uncontroversial good.

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.

Several people mention having to buy many books for the courses but do they need to be bought new all the time? As in, does the school change the books required for courses every year? Why not buy or pass them from senior students down?

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.

Textbook publishers release new editions, at which point they stop selling the old editions (so university bookstores can't easily stock old editions). Instructors then pretty much have to assign new editions.

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!

As an undergrad & grad about 10 years ago, I absolutely loved our university library for working and studying solo (although rarely, if ever, did I need a physical book).

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.

Not sure if I should brag or be ashamed, but during my studies I visited library once - to take paper confirming that I don’t owe them anything.

I guess that’s the beauty of IT

In the olden days as an undergrad I used the engineering library a little bit, mostly for the periodical indices and study nooks.

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)

I don't agree. I have never used the university library as a library. But I always work there because I can concentrate in libraries way better than in my room. I can't see myself being this concentrated alone in my room, I get distracted very easily. In fact, nearly everything I did for my studies, I've done in the various libraries and nothing alone in my room.

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 [1][2] has to disappear, which I think will start the real decline of libraries used by the usual students.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

I'm going to guess that parents as well as alumni have a fondness for new fancy libraries; kinda like having a great football or basketball team, but different.

Such libraries might also help with recruiting new profs.

I'm not defending the added expense, only trying to explain it. Perhaps.

Yes, I love the space of regular libraries but too much of the space is devoted to old books. I like the romance and the smell, but if I can't find a place to sit what good is that?

Part of the reason libraries are quiet is you have fewer people and a lot of sound absorbing materials (that also happen to hold really important information for the right people). Removing books and replacing them with more seats will just make it an open office.

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.

Libraries have two problems - guessing what books their patrons need and should be acquired, and guessing what books they have that their patrons no longer need.

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.

This article does not jive with my experience whatsoever. I graduated from school this year, and I paid for exactly 2 textbooks in my entire college career. The rest were online pdfs. I also only checked out one book from the library in college, everything else I read online. That's just me, but I also don't observe a lot of my peers checking out books. Wish I could find the survey showing 92% prefer print to digital text: that seems preposterous to me.

The first college to swear off all digital books will get first consideration on my kids college application process.

Digital books are fine. It's the terrible way they've been monetized that's the problem. College textbooks simply aren't worth $150 anymore but the publishers are desparately trying to hold onto that valuation.

100% and that’s before adding all the temporary access, unique codes, platform specific access, etc rackets.

Yeah, it's absolutely terrible. Sometimes it's 100 dollars for subpar online software that you need to do homework, particularly in subjects such as Biology and Chemistry. Absolutely frustrating

I'm not talking about cost of the book. I'm talking about studying. I feel strongly that you focus better and study better when reading a paper book. Digital products are too prone to offer distractions that take away from focus.

Books, desks and a comfortable place to nap.

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