What would you do with an additional 24 hours in your week? Catch up with friends? Sleep a little later? Or start that exercise routine you’ve been postponing? At Montgomery College’s libraries, this isn’t a hypothetical question. After a comprehensive survey of user needs, the library extended its weekday schedule, giving students 24 extra hours (eight on each campus) to study, use computers, or borrow books and other materials.
That comprehensive ethnographic study was a lesson in itself. Almost 300 anthropology students conducted research on how the libraries are used; they interviewed 23 faculty members and 306 students. Twenty-one architecture students created design plans for a reimagined library on the Rockville Campus. In all, more than 1,000 people, including 900 students, participated in the study over three years.
Tanner Wray, director of Montgomery College libraries, was the driving force behind the research. “In a survey, you get a lot more nuanced information about what students want and how they work. And employees get a new toolkit to understand students. It is very powerful.”
In addition to expanded hours, the libraries increased the number of power outlets by 67 percent, upgraded furniture (including pieces that are easily moved for group meetings), installed student artwork, and added the all-important Raptor charging stations for students’ devices.
Wray says physical improvements and additional hours are just some of the benefits of conducting such a study. Early on, students who participated in the survey were asked to draw their perfect library. Many MC students included people in their library pictures—librarians or other helpers—indicating students were looking for people support.
Wray believes the survey’s benefits extend far beyond the library’s walls. Students in the anthropology classes, who did much of the survey work, honed their craft and gained practical skills like public speaking. Four students presented their research at The Northeast Regional Honors Council (NRHC), an organization dedicated to the encouragement and support of undergraduate honors learning.
What’s next? The library is currently working with an architecture firm to conceptualize what a future library may look like, including how to use light and color to stimulate learning. Wray says they are also considering how to use space efficiently to create both quiet zones and social spaces.
And no, the librarian does not mind that students are socializing. Wray says he recognizes students need breaks during their academic work, and says it is appropriate for libraries to allow for it and support it.