Being a student can be frustrating. Usually, you share a room with other people who have different motivations or goals to you, and may end up playing music while you're trying to study. If studying at home, you’re often dealing with distractions that can prove far too tempting even for the most committed of us! The campus can present similar problems, with study halls being often less about study, and more about catching up with friends, group work, or less-than quiet discussions! When you multiply those factors by fifty, you end up with a big noisy room where no work can get done.
A library study nook is more than a space put aside for students to read or study, it's a promise. It’s a promise that no matter what their goals are, the library can facilitate the study needs of individual students. The important thing to remember is that study areas are there to help students learn. Libraries are spaces that should be conducive to facilitating learning.
We know that students learn in different ways. Some students will learn in a visual way – that is, reading their text books, writing their assessments, researching online, looking at pictures, shape etc. Others will learn in a kinaesthetic/tactile modality, whereby they prefer role play, gestures, body movement, object manipulation, positioning, play-based learning, study through doing/acting/tinkering etc. (think makerspaces!). Yet others will prefer auditory modalities, whereby they talk and listen through their study processes. They will prefer to learn through rhythms, rhymes, discussion, debate, singing etc. Some may have preferences that include a number of these learning styles.
Thus, it is important to recognise that we don’t all study the same, and we will need different spaces for different learning styles, and different learning tasks. There are different types of study and work that students will need to do. Each one of these will need a designated space that facilitates these requirements. These can include:
- Requirements for individual study, with a quiet area that is conducive to minimising disruption, whilst maximising the ability to focus and learn.
- Requirements for group study, or group work. With school, uni or vocational education assessment requirements increasingly requiring collaborative (group) work, we need to be able to facilitate collaborative process where groups of students can study and work together. Of course, this area will be more rowdy, so it will need a designated area where collaboration and noise are tolerated (to some degree at least).This space will be great for auditory learners, where they can talk through their learning with others.
- Requirements for tactile learning, such as a makerspace area where students can tinker, play, and connect with physical materials to learn. This may involve coding, it make involve 3D printing, it may simply involve creating dioramas or artwork. This will be most engaging in general for kinaesthetic or tactile learners.
Students want to know that they can go to an allocated study area and get the outcomes that they need to be successful in their studies, and to get their work done. 21st century libraries need to accommodate new ways of learning and engaging with their learning and assessment materials.
Here is how to create a study area that students will love:
1. Clear designated areas, with enforced rules or guidelines
The reason most study areas don't work, is that they are trying to only accommodate one type of studying, without proving an alternative for students trying to get other types of study work done. Critically, they also either don't have a solid set of guidelines or rules, or nobody enforces them. As a result, areas that are allocated for quiet study end up being conversation corners filled with ever-growing noise, or group study areas end up being a noise-fest where even those studying in collaborative environments can’t function. Students are there to study and get work done. If they can’t, then they can end up frustrated, unproductive and unable to learn or achieve the required outcomes. There are few places left to go. Once they leave, they may never to return.
Firstly, it is important to create clear signage, so students know what area they are entering into. It is then important to identify what the expectations are for the area. It is a great idea to create signs that use simple graphics and short words to identify the expectations of the area. Graphical representation is a great way to communicate something simply and quickly, and will usually mean even those that don’t speak English can understand the concepts being communicated.
Create a short, clear and simple list of rules or guidelines, laminate them (nothing worse than tardy, torn looking signs) and put them up in key areas, especially on entry to the study area. They should be visible when you first enter the study area - so that there is no confusion as to the expectations- and then plastered in key areas internally in the study area. The writing should be large enough that even those with poor sight can read them. Save the fancy fonts – the writing should be clear and simple! Use graphics where possible.
Next, enforce the guidelines or ‘rules’ that you have created. This can be challenging at the best of times, especially with limited staff numbers. However, it is critical that guidelines or rules are kept to, in order for users of the area to maintain respect for the area, for their peers in the area, and for the library and its staff more generally. An occasional ‘walk through’ by staff is a great idea, just to make sure that customers are respecting the area, and also to just offer any assistance or guidance to students. Who doesn’t love great customer service!
Also utilise library volunteers to keep an eye on the area. Make sure staff or volunteers are trained in having discussions with customers that a) respects the customer, b) communicates the message in a way that isn’t aggressive or overly passive, c) continues to provide the customers with great service, despite delivering a message that they mightn’t like too much. If they are in the silent area, refer them to the group learning area, and if they are in the group learning area and are making too much noise, refer them outside or to an area where they can create as much noise as they like!
2. A Comfortable Space
A study nook should be comfortable. This means that each student should be able to have their own space, and various options as to how they use the area. Desks, couches and even beanbags can be used to achieve this and make what is often a mundane task like studying a bit more comfortable.
Group learning areas should consist of larger tables where people can sit around and work together on projects, communicate, or simply work individually with a group of friends. The other option again is to grab a group of bean bags, or other comfy means of hanging out, and let customers create a space they love!
3. A Practical Space
Because you have a comfortable space that suits your customer’s requirements, it is likely to fill up fast with students. Make sure you consider practicalities, such as BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. Most students these days will have their own devices, and these will need power. Ensure you have enough power points in the study areas, and evaluating the need to run extension cords to various spots around the library (keeping in mind these make terrible tripping hazards!!). The last thing you want is a dozen people clambering around single power points with multi-boxes, trying to charge their laptops and phones.
You will also need to provide fast Internet. This is a core requirement of any 21st century library, and no study area is complete without it! Ensure that there is great lighting, and consider extending opening hours during key study periods e.g. during the Year 12 certificate, or local uni exam time.
Remember that study areas need to serve different purposes to different people. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so be flexible and offer different library spaces that can be used in different ways. Consider the position in context to other areas of the library, e.g. it’s probably best not to put a quiet study area near the Children’s section!
Oh, and be sure to ask for feedback! How else are you going to test and measure what works or doesn’t work? To make it truly valuable, allow customers to co-create their space into a space that is meaningful for them. Ask them what they want, and solicit their feedback. Continuously work to make the space more workable and practical for the needs of students. A library isn’t known as the third space* for nothing!
*Third Space refers to the library as a third place outside of home and work.