• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Place and Climate

A good study space is a real find.


August 14, 2018

In college, entirely by accident, I discovered that the laundry room in my dorm made an excellent study space. Something about the white noise of the dryers provided just enough external stimulation to allow my restless self to focus, without getting distracted. I carried that into grad school, where the local laundromat became a favorite study spot. Something about it just worked.

A good study space is a real find. I always had trouble studying in my dorm, mostly because it always seemed like I should have been hanging out with friends instead.  The library could be a great spot, or not, depending on my mood and the time of day. I even found a few nooks and crannies around campus that did the trick.  

The key wasn’t so much the presence or absence of other people as it was the overall feel. It had to feel distant enough from the dorm that the distractions of the dorm weren’t there to compete for attention, but still familiar and safe enough that I could relax.  

I thought of that in reading the latest report about student success and community college libraries. It speaks not just, or primarily, to the published or electronic resources that libraries offer, as important as those are, but to libraries as spaces. For students who don’t have great alternatives for study spaces -- laundromats notwithstanding -- libraries are lifelines.

At my previous college, my one architectural contribution was getting the library to set aside one room -- previously used for periodicals -- as a quiet study space.  It attracted a small, but consistent and self-enforcing, clientele. For all of the tech toys out there, sometimes students just need a quiet space with a clear purpose.  At my current college, we were able to leverage donor money to renovate dozens of small study rooms around the library. At the end of each semester, they’re so popular that the library had to devise a signup system.

Quiet is part of it, to be sure. But I was taken by this line from a student:

“I’m a procrastinator so I need to be in a public space where other people are doing work as well.  It really helps me focus in on what I have to do and it feels like that’s the rhythm that everybody already is in in this space and so it’s easier for me to concentrate in those spaces.”

That climate is hard to replicate online, particularly when students don’t have quiet spaces at home.

On a commuter campus, as opposed to a residential one, libraries become that much more important.  On a cold or rainy day, it’s often one of the few places that students can go between classes, along with the cafeteria. Typically, the cafeteria is a social space, and rightly so. The library can be the one place that allows students to focus.

Wise and worldly readers, what were your favorite study spaces in college? Have you seen a campus develop a really successful one?


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