Library Spaces Focus Groups: February 2023

The Student UX Team ran two additional focus groups on the topic of Swarthmore’s Library spaces. This feedback amplified what we heard last October and provided some additional insight into why students prefer Cornell to McCabe coalescing around the following themes:


  • Most students have at least one STEM major, making the Cornell collections more relevant
  • Singer Hall [the new Biology, Engineering, and Psychology building] helps create a center of gravity with the Science Building and Cornell Science Library
  • Food is a huge factor. The new Dining Center is on the opposite end of campus from the science buildings, so many students choose to eat in the Science Center Cafe and so use Cornell instead.
  • McCabe was known for strict rules during the pandemic (no eating in the library) which sent people to Cornell since the Science Center Cafe is right there.
  • “If you’re not going to the new dining center, why would you go to McCabe?”


  • There’s better visibility in Cornell. You can easily find a friend in Cornell. McCabe is like a lair – it’s hard to find people.
  • People want to socialize more after the pandemic restrictions and Cornell is better for that.
  • McCabe is old fashioned and has a reputation that isn’t inviting. Cornell is newer and cleaner.
  • “McCabe is a prison. You only go there when you have to.”

Let’s Talk About McCabe

I study there because:

  • It has a nice mix of brightly lit and dim spaces and it’s close to my dorm
  • It’s close to Narples [the new Dining Center] but no other reason

I don’t study there because:

  • The vibe is off, not as positive as other libraries 
  • Other libraries are closer; when they go to McCabe, it’s because it’s just the most convenient
  • McCabe is like one very long hallway

I would use McCabe more often if:

  • There were food nearby
  • My friends studied there
  • It were closer to academic buildings

McCabe needs:

  • More windows and natural light
  • More rooms like the LibLab that are open and inviting
  • To be more sociable. Placement of study tables are awkward making it hard to find a spot

What qualities are unique to Swarthmore that should be reflected in its libraries?

  • Nature aspect of Swarthmore: incorporate it with more windows and larger windows
  • Swarthmore has a lot of different people with different study styles, and the libraries should give them the opportunity to have access to both collaborative and private spaces
  • Swarthmore is close knit – spaces should take being comfortable in a small community into account
  • Books – they give the building life
  • Seeing people work motivates – work spaces with visibility
  • The Library should try to reflect the rich academic history of Swarthmore, McCabe can showcase some interesting historical artifacts from Friends Library, or Special Collections

LabX Focus Group 10.6.22

This group was made up of students who replied to an invitation to join a standing Library Advisory Board and User eXperience group, LabX. The yield from the invitation was small, so I invited more students from the Participant Pool, which yielded just one more. It could be there is less interest in LabX since the pandemic, or it could be simply a timing issue – it’s midterm week. The incentive to participate was a meal (provided by the Libraries) of Chipotle Burritos. Students arrived, exchanged introductions, began to converse over the meal and were then invited to participate in the following exercises facilitated by two UX Assistants:

Agree/Disagree Exercise

Two signs on the wall represented a continuum: Agree on the far left, and Disagree on the far right. Students were invited to place themselves on the continuum to represent their response to the following statements:

The Libraries are where I like to study: 5 Agreed

Comments were about the vibes at different libraries matching different needs for times of day and types of study. McCabe is quiet and where students go when they need to focus. Cornell fits for a daytime space or for times when it helps to know you are not alone. Underhill was noted for the space overlooking the Crumb Woods. One student commented that their dorm room is for relaxation and sleep only and talked about the importance of being in different spaces for different activities. The libraries are study spaces.

I need the Libraries for my academic work: 2 Agreed, 1 Neutral, 2 Disagreed

Although one student spoke of using books on reserve, most equated a need for the libraries with the need for study space.

Quote: ” The libraries are becoming more of a study space and less a repository for human knowledge.

There is a good balance of quiet and noisier space in the libraries – I can find a spot that suits my needs: 2 Agreed, 1 Neutral, 2 Disagreed

A lengthy discussion unfolded about noise levels with a unanimous desire for clearer indications for expectations on library signs. One student noted that the McCabe Directory indicates the Lower Level as a Quiet Floor and suggested we add the following – both to the Directory and to the signs as you enter each level:

  • Third Floor: Quiet Floor
  • Second Floor: Quiet Conversation
  • Main Level: open conversation is obviously ok – no sign needed

I appreciate learning about Library and Campus opportunities via [class list] emails: 2 Agreed, 2 Neutral (1 participant needed to leave early)

Representative Quotes:

  • ” I prefer to figure things out for myself and find the emails a nuisance. Emails from the library got lost in the flood”
  • ” I look through each of them. They help me learn of opportunities.”
  • “A monthly digest would be good. I wish there were a useful calendar rather than 500 emails.” (This comment received universal consensus)

I Like / I Wish / I Want Exercise

Students responded to these three prompts using post it notes and small dots for upvoting. Responses are below, with + signs added to indicate the number of upvotes. This exercise was intended to build suggestions and topics for future discussion and there was little inquiry or follow up to the ideas.

I Like

  • The authoritative quiet of McCabe Level 3
  • How we can appreciate nature in the middle of reading. ++
  • The variety of seating options in the libraries. +

I Wish

  • There were book recommendations from Swarthmore Faculty. +
  • There were maps of all the library interiors. ++
  • There were group quiet work sessions – like the Writing Center’s Write-Ins
  • Books were more accessible
  • There were LOC Call # education for all (or just more signs)

I Want

  • Better publicity for the loanable chargers and headphones
  • Better, more comfortable reading chairs in McCabe – like in Cornell’s upper floor corner
  • More pencils, paper, school supplies in the libraries. +
  • It to be warmer at night
  • More clarity for when snacks and drinks are available in McCabe
  • Shared information about how to read / write
  • Equipment for studying, like bookstands. +

Concluding Quote:

With less use of circulating library materials, we should focus on the study spaces and the expertise of those who work in the library. How can we make these libraries of the future?