As a freshman student at UNC, I thought it would be interesting to study my fellow students as they engage in their study habits. I was interested to learn how students study and how they interacted with the space as they study. So, I decided to observe students who study at Walter Royal Davis Library, because it’s the only library open now due to COVID-19 restrictions. I also know from being on campus that only its first floor is open to reduce capacity. I remember from my tour of campus that the first floor was described as a more social floor, and I expected that this would not be the case anymore. I also assumed that many other aspects of Davis would be different from other years, including its noise level and the number of students studying together. In order to best resolve my questions about this campus library, I thought it would be important to observe how students in Davis Library behave and determine how their habits have changed with the pandemic. Why do students choose this library, and what factors influence their choice and behavior?
This library space can be viewed in many different ways by a variety of individuals. I wanted to begin my study by understanding how students perceive Davis Library and why they like or dislike it. According to research done by Hazel Brown on students utilizing UNC’s Davis Library, some students had voiced negative comments about certain aspects of it. Their complaints were mainly small issues regarding the library’s environment such as lighting, temperature, signage, and elevators. However, even though these students had minor complaints about the library, they were overall satisfied with it and would visit the library again. One statement in Hazel Brown’s research that I found particularly interesting was that “students only expect the library to be functional, so they don’t seem to mind the aesthetics as much” (Brown, 2004, p.57). I think this will prove to be true for students studying this year at Davis; they only really need the library to function as a place to focus.
In order to get some answers to my question, I first went to Davis just to get a look around and see how people were acting in the space and with each other. When I first walked into the library, I immediately noticed how far all the students were spread out from each other in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. This made the library feel almost eerie and isolated; I imagine it must seem very weird for students who are used to the library being so crowded. The typical University signage for COVID-19 protocol was on the doors and walls, and I saw most students respecting the guidelines.
Regarding the behaviors of the students, quite a few of them seemed distressed, which I assumed would be the case since I was visiting the library during midterm season. I also observed many students with hyperactive tendencies such as bouncing their knees or drumming their fingers. I related to this restlessness and know that if I had been studying for hours, I would feel the same way. This first observation was important and helped me get an outside view of what it is like to be a student studying at Davis.
To continue my research I decided to get a more first-hand experience and go study there myself. So, I walked into Davis and chose a seat with the intention of immersing myself in the study environment of students who inhabit this space. The library is totally quiet, and from what I have heard, the first floor of David used to be the most communal floor and the floor got more quiet as you went up. But due to COVID-19 restrictions, the upper floors had to be closed, and now the first floor has been transformed into a quiet study space. As a freshman this doesn’t feel odd to me, but I’m sure it seems strange for upperclassmen who are used to this floor being filled with noise.
From this experience, I see why so many students like studying here. I normally study in my dorm room, but the environment of Davis allows me to focus on my work much better. I think being surrounded by other students who are also hard at work is a motivating factor to get my assignments done. And because I walked all the way from my dorm, I need to make my time worthwhile. Since the majority of people who use Davis are students, I believe they probably enjoy working here for the same reasons.
In addition to my observations of the library environment, I surveyed some current UNC students of varying grades to get their opinions of Davis. My biggest take-away was that this year the majority of the students I surveyed would describe the environment of the first floor of Davis as quiet, but students who were here last year would have described it then as “social” or “communal.” Another big take away was that four of six students surveyed said they liked studying at Davis because it helped them focus, and I felt that I could relate to that statement after being immersed in the study space at Davis Library.
From my research at Davis Library I learned a lot about the space there, how it is perceived by students, and how students act in this space. I learned that a student’s behavior and mannerisms reflect their mood or mental state ; if they are stressed while studying, their behavior reflects that. I also concluded that COVID-19 has drastically affected the behavior of students at Davis Library and has not allowed them to do as much communal work, changing the overall atmosphere of what used to be the most social floor of Davis. In addition, I realized that, while some students dislike this library, it does offer a community of focused individuals, and I experienced firsthand how it can help a student -become focused and get her work done.
Brown, H. (2004). Student Usage of Library Resources at One Academic Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. https://doi.org/10.17615/4na8-fd31
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