Moving & Shaking in the Library

How can movement be incorporated into academic activities like studying or reading? This question comes on the heels of research regarding the health risks of sedentary behavior—especially sitting for long stretches of time. It’s particularly relevant to academic libraries, which frequently serve as study spaces for students on campus. The built environment of a typical campus—the libraries, classrooms, and common areas—is filled with places to sit, and reaffirms the assumption that academic activities are sedentary. Yet, what if redesigning the learning environment to include space for movement is enough to shift our thinking and create a healthier campus space for students?

Researchers from the UC Berkeley Department of Architecture observed and evaluated behaviors in a campus library: interior and exterior architectural details, lighting, who uses the library, where people go and what they do in the library, how many hours are spent sitting, and the range of postures people assume while in the library and around campus. They were surprised to discover that students often brought their own resources into the library to study, rather than checking out resources or taking library materials to other parts of campus. The findings confirm the changing role of campus libraries. Students expect more than just stacks and research materials—they want a physical space to serve a variety of activities.

The results—how much time students spend in the library, how they use the space—led to a number of specific design recommendations. Providing furniture to support a range of healthy postures, moveable furniture, standing or slanted-desk workstations, rooms with mats and yoga balls where students can take quick breaks, and secure storage spaces to enable students to move around the building freely can go a long way towards encouraging new study behaviors. Other suggestions include welcoming creative uses of space and conducting regular evaluations to assess building performance, user needs, and potential areas for change.

The paper articulates steps toward change through modifying physical environments and educating designers in body-conscious design, but ultimately the pursuit of healthier campuses will also require a broader cultural shift. How can we change the perception of the library as a formal, quiet place and encourage more active, creative uses of the space? If we can successfully reimagine the library, perhaps we can also change the sedentary norm of other academic environments.

DeClercq, C. P., & Cranz, G. (2014). Moving beyond seating-centered learning environments: Opportunities and challenges identified in a POE of a campus library. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(6), 574-584.