Responding to the U Times editorial on Library etiquette

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Shanequa Perry raised several interesting issues in her recent editorial about how students should use the space in Atkins library(11/23/2010).  I’d like to take a chance, as the anthropologist in the library, to respond to some of her concerns, and give a little context for some of what she’s seeing.
I’ll start by saying that Atkins can never be all things to all people—but the space we have and the resources we offer should be as accessible as possible to as wide a variety of community members as we can manage.
One of the first things the editorial mentioned in Atkins was the widespread presence of non-academic websites on her classmates’ desktop computers:  Facebook, Twitter, etc.  I’d add to that list YouTube, GoogleMail, Hulu, a wide variety of news and entertainment sites, and gaming sites.  In my observations of student behavior and computer use at Atkins, I’ve noticed that in addition to these non-scholarly sites (they are referred to in the editorial as called them “procrastination” sites,  and many would agree), students are on Moodle, doing WebWork, using MS word or Excel, and even accessing resources through the Atkins website.  At any given moment, people may be doing work, or taking a break from their work.  Some students are in Atkins between classes, and so take a chance to check email, take a break, play around on Facebook, or watch a fun clip on YouTube before getting back to class.  Some students are in Atkins for a long time, and are settled in to work on a paper, a problem set, or some other time-consuming assignment.  Perhaps the moment you see them on FB is the break they are taking after working for a couple of hours.  Perhaps you miss the point where they flip from YouTube over to WebWork.  Think about how you do work–do you work non-stop for hours on one thing?  Or do you take breaks?  Do you have only one window open on your desktop?  Or do you have everything open at once, school-related and not?
It is incorrect to say that there is a no-food, no-drink policy in the library.  In fact, we have vending  machines!

It was decided long ago that it was important for students to be able to stay in the library if they needed to keep their focus.  Bringing food with them, and taking a snack break before getting back into their studies allows for them to get more work done than if they had to go down to Peets, or even all the way down to the Prospector, Cone Center, or Student Union for a meal.  It’s not just about the time spent going to get food, but also about the loss of focus possible when you bump into friends on the way, chat about the weekend, and then oh wait where was I in this chapter….?

People persistently tell me that the library is a place for them to focus.  So of course, other people talking can be a problem if the way you focus is in absolute silence.  But many people use background noise as a way of gaining focus.  I’ve heard over and over, “if it’s too quiet, I can’t think.”  Of course, there are limits to how loud useful noise can be.  This struggle between quiet and reasonable noise is a constant one in university libraries, and we obviously have not come up with the perfect solution yet.  Some things we’ve tried so far include:
  • Designating the 3rd floor as a QZ.  I know (because many of you have told me!)  that there continue to be noise problems—some because of people who continue to use the 3rd floor as a study hall, even though it’s no longer the space for that.  Old traditions die hard.  We probably need to think about the furniture configurations up there, too. 
  • The floors in the Atkins tower now have wireless–so you can get away from it all, and still have access to the internet
  • There are more computers on each floor, especially on the third floor, so that there can be quiet computing space as well as constructively noisy computer spaces.
  • We’ve added more group study rooms, which are bookable online, and which provide spaces where you can either shut the door and study quietly, or shut the door and have group discussions.
  • The new group study areas on the ground floor, near the Library Café.  Having new spaces that encourage group study, we hope, will encourage people to leave the QZs quiet, because there are now better places to make constructive noise.

The editorial also covered sleeping in the library.  Speaking as someone who’s taken a fair share of library naps, I think this might be one of the things that we take on when we go to a 24-hour space.  People study at all hours of the night and day here now, and sometimes, they need to recharge—and can’t go all the way home to do so.  Until recently, people had to use two chairs to get a good nap space—unless they happened upon the One Library Couch.   
Now there are more couches, and more obvious chances to sleep.  As with eating, these are things that people do outside of the library, sure, but providing space for sleeping and eating (within reason) to happen in the library allow people to find focus and get their work done.
In short, while the editorial has good points, there is also an argument to be made for a variety of legitimate ways to use the library.  The tricky part is getting all of those different ways to use the library working in harmony with each other.  It’s a continuing challenge.  Please help by continuing with your feedback, and by working in Atkins!

8 thoughts on “Responding to the U Times editorial on Library etiquette

  1. Anonymous

    Library suppose to be a quiet place. Look at our library, like a busy restaurants. Library never force the quiet police even at QZ.

  2. Anonymous

    So are you mad at her article? If so did you ever check the fact that it is in the OPINION section of U-TIME! This means it is her opinion of the library. She also stated that it was not only UNCC but others. Have you taken the time to inform her instead of putting her name over the internet?

  3. Donna Lanclos, Atkins Library Ethnographer

    No, no, not mad at all. No one is calling anyone out, or being angry. This is an exchange of ideas.
    And I did send a copy of this blogpost to the U Times.
    I’m aware it was opinion, but there were bits and pieces of what she thought was the case at Atkins that were simply not true (e.g., the food and drink thing).

    This is just my attempt to start a conversation, and also to give some context to what she was seeing at Atkins.

    As for “putting her name on the internet”–she’s the author of an opinion piece that was in the campus paper, both hard copy and online. I don’t see any point in pretending I don’t know her name.

  4. Anonymous

    Ms.Donna Lanclos, how much time do you spend at Library study area rather than your own office?

  5. Anonymous

    That’s DR. Donna Lanclos to you. And did you read her post? It’s clear she spends a LOT of time at the library, observing how people use it.

    Critical thinking: ur doin it wrong.

  6. Donna Lanclos, Atkins Library Ethnographer

    I wonder what number of hours would make the questioner happy?
    I spend time in the library, less time in my office than I should, actually, considering all of the interview transcription I need to do.
    I spend time talking to students.
    I spend time at the reference desk.
    I spend time in classrooms.
    But hey, if I’m missing something, I have this blog for people to say things of substance. Please, tell me what I’m wrong about, so I can ask better questions next time.

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