Hello academic library experts!

We are dealing with a couple of complaints from students (I suspect because the library is very busy at present) who say that our library staff are not doing enough to manage selfish, anti-social or even noisy behaviour by other students in areas of the library designated as quite or silent zones. We’ve also had to remove a computer mouse that was super-glued to a desk top recently and that will necessitate a lot of expensive repair work to the long desk top that was damaged in the removal process.

We do have our reshelvers and security staff talk to students if they notice anything inappropriate and we can also deploy our student rovers against such behaviour, but I suspect the more that we react, the more students will either counter-react or find another way around it. Last year I talked with many US academic librarians who told me that students mostly self-manage behaviour in their library “commons” and group study spaces. We seek to gently encourage the same thing here, but we don’t want to go as far as encouraging student vigilantes and we don’t want to be too “precious” about the space.

So, I would be interested in reading about any successful initiatives you may have tried recently to encourage more cooperative, tolerant and appropriate behaviour by students in THEIR library.

The image above is the University of Nevada Las Vegas Lied Library learning commons.


  1. Tony

    We visited Curtin Uni Library last year and their design was very clever in zoning areas. There were clearly areas which were supposed to be noisy and messy (rubber flooring!), discussion and group work areas, quiet areas and a silent area as well and from what we could see the students were acting like they'd chosen the "right" area. We have one silent floor and I always find people talking on it, but they do usually move to the stairs/foyer area, so they're at least making an effort.

  2. restructuregirl

    Self governing and zoning are great up until it's a busy period for those writing assignments AND those studying quietly for exams. At present we just make more announcements. I think that's more noise, but it does placate some angry students in the space.I don't remember who told me this idea, perhaps someone in WA, (or maybe I dreamed it), but it sounds good: Have sandwich boards with "Please be quiet – other students are trying to study – there are talking spaces on level 2" and send staff up wearing them to walk through the quiet zones. It means no one has to confront a student (often makes them louder as defensive). Or in modern times have an iPad with this statement on it that you can wave under their noses, or paper with artistic pictures and the statement. Alternatively why not go with the soccer theme and present students with a yellow slip of paper with the above text on it for their first offence, then a red slip and you must leave now for their next offence. A library presentation I heard following a colleagues visits to new libraries in Scotland, talked about a refurb where they had a motion sensor near the door outside the quiet room. As you left the lift to enter the space, before you opened the door,a recording said "Ssh. You are entering a no talking space". I can't find the library details online, but I SO want to put that in one of our new libraries. Don't care what the message is, just want the motion sensor and pre recorded message. And perhaps a camera to record the new students reactions for Funniest Home Videos.

  3. restructuregirl

    Ooh ooh I've had a better idea. What about shaming from the Middle Ages. Anyone who talks can be made to wear the Scolds Bridle shown on Qi last week. Or just a silly hat saying "I can't keep my mouth shut today".Alternatively a big whiteboard as they enter the library with a line down the middle and a note on one side "Talking spaces" and on the other "Silent Spaces"? If you think it's just people who aren't doing it deliberately in the wrong space?re the mouse – it's a sad state of affairs, but we use security cameras, or dummy security cameras on things like that to stop silly vandelism.And I'd be tempted to post a sign saying why it's out of action – but as you see above I'm into shaming …

  4. CW

    I do love the idea of shaming people but I don't think that would be very popular with either the UL or the students themselves ;)And restructuregirl that motion sensor camera is a brilliant idea. (I'm remembering we chatted about a camera for other uses as well. The more I think about this the more appealing it sounds.)In my experience there's no easy way around this, except to ensure that staff are seen on the floors when we know people are all packed in there and some are less tolerant of any noise.Tony, I wonder if I've met you! I was working at Curtin Uni Library last year…! (Ruth is correct though, at exam time all the zoning and self-governing does seem to fall by the wayside. If I recall, at exam time at Curtin the noise complaints tended to come from designated quiet areas rather than the noise-ok zones.)I've also been thinking lately that given that people seem more stressed at exam times, whether little gestures like offering them Minties ("because it's moments like these"), would help relieve some of the tension. (But then we have to contend with the extra mess…)

  5. Andrew

    It's one thing to say that we should trust our users to behave respectfully, but at the same time, we need to know how to manage user behaviour in libraries. Having worked in a school library since the beginning of the year, I have realised how important this is, predominantly for the sake of the majority of users who want to enjoy using the library, but get put off by the small minority who are disruptive and disrespectful of the space.Personally, I'm not a fan of anything that can come across as passive-aggressive behaviour – something that, unfortunately, is often present when it comes to librarians. I also feel that having a substantial amount of signage can become an excuse for library staff to stick their head in the sand, and say "Well, the signs are up, and now it's up to the students to do the right thing. And it's not my job to manage other people's behaviour."Which, frankly, is bollocks.Firstly, it's important to have dedicated spaces for "noisy" group study, and silent study.However, it's also important for staff to be vigilant, and stay on top of behaviour before it gets out of hand. Simply – get out from behind the desk, walk around the area, have conversations with those users who may be getting a little overstimulated, or inconsiderate of others. There will be plenty who appreciate your effort infinitely more than the few who are put off.And, most importantly, TRAIN YOUR STAFF in being able to confidently confront people, and manage the behaviour of difficult library users. It doesn't need to be a negative experience, but without proper training, staff are going to be unwilling to confront users over their behaviour.

  6. Penny

    We do the patrol thing, checking for IDs (since we do hv non-students who use our space at times) and sometimes announcements. We have those signs that sit on weighted bottoms, digital signage at entry points too. But nobody likes being policement and it is always at exam time when we get the most complaints.Love Ruth's ideas! Unfortunately I work with some who have no sense of humour so when I jokingly suggested cracking whips as a means of quieting things down it was met with a "We don't do that here, we ask them nicely" comment. so… We do have zones but there is always noise spillage because of the stupid way things have been designed. I have suggested in the past that we keep a stash of el cheapo ear plugs at the desk and offer them as required.I shall watch these comments with interest!

  7. Tony

    Ruth, there's a Japanese t-shirt shop at Qv in Melb that says thank you (in japanese) when you walk out the door. It's clever enough to only say it when you're leaving and not as you go in. I'm afraid I go in and browse just so I can hear it when I leave (yes I am easily amused) so your automatic shusher could be a goer.Con, I don't think we met last year. A colleague and I visited and met David Wells and a couple of others to talk about Primo and stuff, this was at Educause. I really liked Curtin. One of the student cafs served hot chip rolls!

  8. Tony

    Also, our silent areas are either side of the stair foyer. Noise carries up from the other floors so we installed automatic doors to try to keep the noise out. Unfortunately now people complain about the noise from the doors.

  9. restructuregirl

    Minties is brilliant. Or everlasting gobstoppers or home made really chewy toffee. So their teeth are engaged in chewing & can't talk!Ear plugs is a good one too! We gave them out 1 year when we had building works. Not v environmentally friendly Mal (although yours could be made from popcorn) but you get a box of about 500 for only $10. At least it gives you something to give those upset by the noise.If you do send your staff around if is important to offr them real training. We had a couple of instances where there was more noise in the confrontation between library staff & students than there was in the original patron talking. I spoke to a library tech once who said they got 30 mins off shelving every 2 hours and they had to sit at the front & back of their studyhall like exam markets, then walk down & ask people to be quiet if talking. He said result was like police blitzes on kerb crawling – just moved the perpetrators to another location, but it would give your customers a real sense that "something was being done"!

  10. Janet

    Free ear plugs?Increased security and library staff walk throughs?Additional designated “exam preparation zone” quiet space – change status of an area or room temporarily?Move group desks?More notices about group areas in quiet zones?add screens to areas to cut out noise from elsewhere?Invite students who complain to join new Student Library Advisory CommitteeInteresting discussions and suggestions (as above) at Ideas for the future? Escape place Janet from UTSLIB

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