from the Library of Maura


Space Matters

May 11th, 2013 by Maura A. Smale · 3 Comments

One of my college experiences that I’m most grateful for is the opportunity I had to do my academic work in a wide variety of libraries and other spaces. These days my research and writing mostly happens in two locations: my office, sometimes before the library opens (though my office is in a very quiet part of the library, so even with the door open it’s never loud), or at home, where I have a laptop and vary my workspace slightly based on the time of day (mornings are sunny in the living/dining room, afternoons sunnier in the bedroom where my desk is). I know I can work in other places — my laptop is heavy, but not too heavy to take to a public library (we have so many wonderful library options in NYC), a coffee shop, etc. — but usually I don’t. Those places always seem so far away, and I have a hard time convincing myself to spend time and money commuting just to vary my study location, especially when I only have a few hours for that work.

But college was different. I was reminded of this not too long ago when I learned about a nifty libraries promo at the University of Chicago. They’ve made a set of small buttons with the name of each of the 6 libraries on campus. (Full disclosure: I had a radio show in college so these buttons also make me happy because they remind me of my youthful DJing and show-going days.)


I tweeted a photo of the buttons which sparked a quick conversation with friends and other alums about the places we studied. One of my favorites as an undergrad was Harper Library’s reading room, a very traditional space with high ceilings, tall narrow windows, dark wood tables, and bookshelf-lined walls. I loved Harper — it was the perfect environment for sustained reading and taking notes (from what I understand it’s now no longer a lending library but remains a study space). For more utilitarian, everyday schoolwork I went to the Regenstein, the main humanities/social sciences library on campus (also where my friends hung out). By third year I had a locker and a favorite carrel just adjacent; my then (and current) partner worked in the coffee shop on the lower level. If I had serious, uninterruptable work to do I’d sometimes go to Crerar, the science library. It was farther away from my dorm (and then apartment) than the other libraries, and it’s main advantages were that it was utterly silent and it was unlikely that any of my friends would be there, so I wouldn’t be tempted to socialize when I should be studying.

I’m a librarian so of course I love libraries, that’s no surprise. But as we’re heading into finals I’m reminded again about space: finding adequate space for academic work (and how lucky I was to have so many options). I walk through the library and students are everywhere. Every seat is filled, at carrels and tables, and students are even perched on kickstools in-between the stacks — though to be fair, many of them are seeking electrical outlets, which are occasionally located on pillars throughout the stacks. I love to see the library so full, but worry that we don’t have enough space for our students or enough different types of space.

Space is a luxury, it’s true, and City Tech has a small campus in a dense part of Brooklyn. What can we do in the libraries on our space-constrained campuses? Are there small steps we can take to ensure that students have the space they need to do their academic work? That’s one of the things my research partner and I are thinking about and grappling with right now as we write up our study of CUNY students’ scholarly habits. I’ve been cheered to read about a small academic library that established a silent study room — might there be space for something like that at our library? Could we rearrange or remove stacks to create quiet and less quiet zones? I’m looking forward to pulling together (and sharing!) these recommendations from our research.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • Alycia Sellie (she/her/they) // May 12th 2013 at 9:21 am

    Great post, Maura! Whatever interest I’ve had in study spaces has only grown exponentially since I’ve come to NYC, where every sort of space issue feels amplified.

    Being nostalgic about my own undergraduate experiences led me to this map recently, from College Library at the UW-Madison, which I really appreciate for its nuances–not only are there designated quiet/silent/group areas (with definitions of what each means), but the 3rd floor even has a gradient of hot to cool, quiet to silent:

  • Maura A. Smale (she/her) // May 12th 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Ooh, that map is wonderful, thanks Alycia! It seems like clear signage is a huge part of the differentiation between different kinds of study spaces, and it’s one we’ve already begun to tackle. (Though at some point we can hopefully make some changes to the physical space, too.)

  • mauraweb!» archive » button button who’s got the button // Jan 12th 2014 at 10:20 pm

    […] And my librarian self has a couple of open access buttons, a librarians against DRM button, and a set of 6 library buttons from the University of Chicago. I even have an old hippie button promoting breastfeeding that was […]

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