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How loud are some of the popular campus study spots? A noise sensor tells us

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Rebecca Noble and Rebecca Noble and Rebecca Noble | The Daily Wildcat Students study at Cafe Luce on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.

For those sensitive to noise, not all study spots are created equal. Some students need to study in absolute silence and others need background noise, so utilizing a sensor owned by the University of Arizona School of Journalsim, we monitored the loudness of three campus study spots.

The sensor monitored the designated quiet area on the fourth floor of the Main Library, the ground floor of the Main Library's Information Commons and Caffè Lucé, a coffee shop on Park Avenue.

Quietest spots, according to the sensor:

  1. Main Library quiet floor
  2. Main Library Information Commons
  3. Caffè Lucé

The sensor showed Caffè Lucé was louder than the library and the loudest sound in the Information Commons was greater than the loudest sound on the quiet floor, but overall the two library floors were very close. The results, however, are unscientific. A scientific study with a more powerful sensor could provide a more accurate and detailed analyses of the sound levels in these places. But anecdotally, the Information Commons was louder than the quiet floor and Caffè Lucé was easily the loudest.

The noise level in these places determined if some students went there to study or stayed away.

There are too many voices at coffee shops, said Anna Stone, a junior majoring in psychology. “Other people’s voices distract me. So I can’t even listen to music with words in it when I study.” That’s why she went to the library’s designated quite floors.

A hum of background chatter still loomed in busy areas. But more isolated desks were tucked away down the aisles of books.

Julie Grenier, a sophomore majoring in marketing, didn’t mind Caffè Lucé’s bold background noise of music, conversations and busy baristas. The library was too crowded for studying, she said.

The Information Commons was designed to be a noisier, more collaborative environment, said John Miller-Wells, a Library Information Analyst. The Information Commons provides group study spaces and a range of other resources.

"I'm [in the Information Commons] mostly for the computer," said Cheryl Bondy, a molecular biology senior. "I do like quiet areas, but if I were in a spot that was more closed off and quieter I think I would fall asleep. Here, I'm more aware."

Library staff acknowledged that everyone has different auditory study needs. Rae Swedenburg, a Library Information Analyst, pointed to a study which found that students’ noise preferences are genuinely physiological. Students just handle noise differently. Personality factors don’t necessarily play a role, researchers Susan Gordon-Hickey and Trey Lemley wrote in The Journal of Academic Librarianship.

The library tries to accommodate students who ask for both collaborative and quite spaces, Miller-Wells said. That’s why quite floors were designated at the same time the Information Commons floor was established back in 2002.

Library staff helps enforce designated quite areas when they receive a complaint, Miller-Wells said. They receive about two noise complaints a month. And if a student complains while they are on a floor that’s meant to be nosier they’ll help relocate them to a quieter space.

The balancing act of providing spaces for students’ different auditory study needs depends on good communication between students and librarians, Gordon-Hickey and Trey Lemley stressed in their research.

—Marissa Heffernan and Mikayla Mace contributed to this report


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