Libraries are generally expected to be among the quietest study environments on campus. However, a recent increase in noise complaints from students indicates that this might not always be the case. The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Student Affairs Committee (SAC), chaired by Kate Cullen ’16, in conjunction with the Student Life Committee (SLC), conducted a survey to determine what students thought of noise levels in the University’s two main libraries, Olin Memorial Library (Olin) and the Exley Science Library (SciLi).
“Dean Mike Whaley brought it my attention a few weeks ago that he was receiving an influx in complaints from students that there weren’t enough quiet study spaces on campus,” Cullen wrote in an email to The Argus. “He also said that there has been a big increase in the number of classrooms reserved for personal study this semester.”
After discussing the issue within the SLC and the SAC, Cullen created and distributed the survey.
“We decided the best course of action was to make this issue a campus conversation,” Cullen wrote. “The purpose of the survey was to give all students a voice in setting community standards about our study spaces.”
Cullen described the surveying process and her methods for finding the ideal student sample.
“Our intention was to gather responses from students that actually use the library,” Cullen wrote. “To do this, we manually surveyed students while they were studying in the two spaces at ‘prime studying times,’ so about 9 [p.m.] on a Tuesday night. We sent out the survey electronically at times when students would be taking study breaks to check email or Wesleying.”
The survey asked students to rank their preferred noise level in various sections of Olin and SciLi. The scale for Olin ranged from one to four, with one being relatively social and four being absolutely quiet. For SciLi, the survey asked students to rank the noise levels from 1-5, with 1 being “Social/Collaborative Study,” encouraging group study, and 5 being “Absolutely Quiet.”
“I think it’s pretty fair to say that the informal ‘norm’ of each library is that SciLi is louder and collaborative and Olin is quieter and individual,” Cullen wrote. “Keeping this in mind, we set the metrics slightly different for the two spaces.”
At least 240 students responded to the survey for each section of the library. For Olin, Smith Reading Room was ranked quietest with a preferred mean score of 3.52. Also on the first floor, Olin’s main reading room was the loudest with a preferred average of 2.13. In Exley, the 24 hour quiet lounge was preferred to be quietest with an average of 4.09, and its first floor was ranked loudest with an average of 1.62.
Nathaniel Warner ’17 agreed with Cullen’s sentiment that the two libraries serve different purposes.
“Generally I try to do my studying in the library,” Warner said. “Normally when I have to write a paper I’ll go to one of the study carrels on the third floor of the library, or I’ll go to Espwesso.”
Head of Reference at Olin Library Diane Klare was surprised with the number of noise complaints from students when she attended a recent SLC meeting.
“During that meeting, one of the issues that came up was the level of noise in the library,” Klare said. “I’ve been here for about 11 years, and I conveyed the fact that we don’t intentionally try to enforce a code of silence.”
The final question asked students whether they would be in favor of turning the Olin Smith Reading Room into an “‘un-plugged’ technology-free quiet study space.” With 247 students responding to the question, 59% said no. This result surprised Cullen.
“I thought the ‘un-plugged’ space would gain more traction, but most people had no idea which way it would go,” Cullen wrote.
Yet Klare understood student’s support of keeping the Olin Smith Reading Room “plugged in.”
“In some ways [this] makes sense only because when students are working individually, they’re most likely going to be working on a laptop,” Klare said. “It would be very difficult for people working in a student space for people not to have access to their laptop or the Internet.”
Cullen hopes changes will be made after the results of the survey are published.
“We discussed in the Student Life Committee [meeting] last Friday how to move forward with these results,” Cullen wrote. “We decided that we’ll work with the library staff to put up signs around SciLi and Olin reminding students of the noise levels voted on in the survey. SAC will also send out an email to the student body explaining the results of the survey.”
This method of reminding students of the generally supported noise levels is consistent with the library’s philosophy of self-policing and monitoring.
“What I wanted to stress with Kate and what I stressed at the meeting is that we want Olin and the libraries in general to be in an open and welcoming space,” Klare said. “We want people to use the space, [and] we want people to use the resources and our facilities. We would like to be able to talk to students when they have research needs.”
Klare stated that the number of recent complaints is likely due to a lack of student knowledge about the location of quiet spaces, rather than a scarcity of these rooms on campus. Klare offered an explanation.
“Maybe they’re not familiar enough with the campus so that they can scope out a place that’s quiet,” Klare said. “That’s really a matter of becoming accustomed [to] what there is on campus and where they can go. Everybody has their own sort of zone for where they like to study.”