How many computers do we need?

This summer, the main floor of McCabe will be renovated in order to create a home for the Teaching and Learning Commons. In order to make room for and welcome our new neighbors, we need to reconfigure space near the large printers, reducing the number of computers in the area pictured, below, near the printers.

Computer workstations near the printers in McCabe

We’ve noticed less traffic in this area since the pandemic, but outside of anecdotal evidence, we need to learn how many desktop computers will meet our user’s needs. To find out, Access + User Services Supervisor, Patrick Sinko, and I looked at and analyzed the following data:

Quantitative Data

Our colleagues in ITS provided us with a spreadsheet that lists each computer in McCabe along with the following data points collected from August through December of 2023:

  • Number of logins
  • Total time the computer was in use, split between:
    • Active time
    • Idle time

We sorted the data by the number of logins and learned that the computers near the printer have the highest number – by far.

We next divided the amount of active time the computers were used by the number of logins to find an average of how much time people typically, actively spend at each of these computers and learned:

  • The computers closest to the printers are used for shorter periods of time, ranging from less than 10 minutes to up to 20 minutes
  • Computers further away from the printers are used for longer periods of time, with an overall average for these of 56 minutes
  • Users have a slight preference for Macs over PCs
  • PCs are used for longer periods of time than Macs

Qualitative data

Quantitative data is vital, but it doesn’t tell us why people choose to use computers in this area. To try to find out, we invited users to provide feedback via a form placed at each work station accessed by QR code. The form was anonymous, but to incentivize feedback, we agreed to send this “special edition sticker of McCabe” to any students who shared their names.

Special edition sticker of McCabe

We additionally included the row of docking stations in our qualitative study. (Docking stations are monitors + keyboards that people use connected to their personal device.) Even though the docking stations will remain available once the TLC renovation is complete, we wanted to get a sense of users’ preferences.

Docking stations (monitors + keyboards to be connected to personal devices) on the Main Floor

We received 32 responses to the form from February 2 through March 5, 2024. Here’s a summary of responses:

We first wanted to determine whether computer use was a priority, or whether perhaps the specific area of the library was a factor in choosing these spaces. We differentiated those possibilities in the first question on the form by asking “Why are you using this spot today?” and offered the following choices:

  • I’m using the computer or docking station
  • I like this spot and don’t need the computer or docking station
  • I’m here for both the equipment and the spot
  • Other

All but two users indicated that in addition to appreciating the spot, they were there to use the computer.

We next asked “If you’re using the computer, why?”

The qualitative data confirmed what we expected from the quantitative data: a majority of users were there to print. But what we had not anticipated was the level of desire for a larger (or additional) monitor.

Not wanting to carry (or having problems with) personal devices was the next highest reason, followed by one response for Access to Library Resources, and one for Access to Windows Applications.

Pie chart showing percentages for reasons why people choose to use the computers near the printers

Next, we hoped to learn how important it is to users that computers (or docking stations) remain in this area. The answer? Pretty important:

Graph showing the importance of keeping computers and docking stations near the printers

And finally, we wondered if our users have a preference for computers, or whether docking stations are fine. These results surprised me, since a docking station could just as easily satisfy the need for a larger, or second monitor and I had assumed a higher preference for these. I’ve just provided a great excellent example of why it’s important to get feedback from users rather than make assumptions. (You’re welcome!)

Pie chart showing preferences for computers or docking stations

Conclusion + Recommendations

It remains important for the libraries to provide computers near the printers, since as expected, they are used (a lot!) for printing.

  • If we keep our current furniture, reducing the number of tables from four to two will maintain space for 6 computers – a good number to accommodate printing needs. Since MACs are preferred, we could create a configuration of either 4 MACs and 2 PCs, or 3 of each type.
  • But if we swap out the current furniture for slightly less capacious workstations, we may be able to keep more computers in this area accommodating users who are drawn to work there for longer periods of time.

Although our form did not ask for specifics about why users like “this spot,” other studies (#SwatStudySpot, focus groups, and observational data) indicate preferences for:

  • natural light
  • a quiet hum of noise: quiet enough for focus, but without isolation and in the company of others
  • views to the outdoors or even expansive views inside buildings (high ceilings, large rooms, etc.)

While we may wish to find new homes in McCabe for the computers we’ll be moving away from the printers this summer, we should keep these characteristics in mind. Simply moving them to isolated places in McCabe may show decreased use.

Case in point: there are two computers on the 3rd floor that are used for longer periods of time (an average of 90 minutes or more) that are in an open lounge area near large windows and a balcony looking out over Parrish lawn. I would not have necessarily predicted this, but it makes perfect sense in light of what we know!

3rd floor lounge in McCabe with 2 Mac Computers

#SwatStudySpot Project Wrap-up

This was an informative, fun, study with which to begin our year last fall. We invited students to fill out a brief form and upload a photograph of their favorite study spot in answer to our research question: What kinds of spaces help Swarthmore students focus on and accomplish their academic work?

The following preferences emerged:

  • Natural light (but even bright, interior lighting is better than darker spaces)
  • Expansive views – both interior views and views to the outdoors
  • Access to the outdoors and outdoor study spaces in good weather
  • Noise level preferences on a continuum from quiet spaces without any distractions to spaces with a low hum of activity, all the way to active, noisier spaces

Proximity to one’s dorm, options for food, and electrical outlets are preferred, as well as some things that are difficult to control – like the temperature of the room. (Thank you Underhill mezzanine for being “always warm when I’m cold.”)

UX Interns noted that study space preferences may shift over the course of a semester and depend on what kind of work they are trying to accomplish.

And an important thing I learned (which should not have surprised me) is the excellence of Swarthmore student photographers.

Sunlight illuminating interior study space in Singer Hall
Photo by Shuhao Ren, ’27
3rd floor lounge in McCabe looking out over the balcony to Parrish lawn and Clothier Tower
Photo by Emily Dong, ’27

Launching our first 2023/24 project: Share Your Study Spot Photo: Get a Sticker

The UX Interns are launching our first user feedback project for the year: a photo journal study aptly called: Share Your Study Spot Photo.

We’ve created flyers, (well, Amanda created them. Thanks Amanda Bonnet!) are posting them around campus and will follow up in a few days inviting students via email to fill out this form, upload a photo of their favorite spot and let us know why it’s their favorite in exchange for a laptop (or water bottle) sticker.

We’re hoping to learn some things about what kinds of environments students want and need in order to focus on their academic work, but truthfully, we’re also hoping to spread the word about our UX work and build our level of engagement with the campus community.

The photos will help inform our vision for library space renovations too! Stay tuned for what we learn.

Space exploration, or, UX on-the-fly

This semester I’ve noticed frequent evidence of science-y stuff happening on the big whiteboard that’s outside my office as I arrive at work each day. The content is striking because my office is in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library and we have a recently renovated Science Library nearby.

I’ve noticed groups of students working on science projects in this space throughout the day, so decided to start asking them why they are choosing to work here instead of the science library.

The first student I asked was working out a chemistry problem on the whiteboard. He said he chooses the space because it’s a little quieter and because the science library “has a pretty overwhelming STEM vibe” that makes him uncomfortable.

But my direct question seemed to make him feel uncomfortable too and I worried later (especially after noticing the beautiful chemistry symbols erased from the whiteboard) that I may have made him feel as if he didn’t belong. Note to self: leave brief reply cards in this area and collect the information anonymously and more voluntarily! I’d love to know more from this student. What did he mean by the uncomfortable STEM vibe? After all, chemistry is a STEM subject.

I next approached a group of three students hard at work on a science project in this same space and inquired what draws them here instead of the Science Library. Their answer was different: they meet together every Wednesday morning and come from different places. This space is the most centrally located.

However, they added that the group spaces in the Science Library are not as conducive to their work: spaces there are more open and the group feels more exposed than they like, plus it’s generally louder over there.

This particular spot is about to disappear as a result renovation this spring (hence the empty stacks) but it’s interesting to note the aspects that make it appealing:

  • it’s centrally located
  • quiet-but-not-silent
  • has a large whiteboard
  • is enveloped by tall stack ranges on either side of a spacious work table which help create privacy and a more enclosed feeling (maybe like a little hug from the libraries? I can hope!)

As we think about library space, we gather lots of quantitative data: how many students use a space, what they use the space for, what kinds of equipment they use, what times of day and night are more crowded, how much space we need for collections, how to balance desires for quiet with the need for group work space. It’s important to remember to gather qualitative data from a broad spectrum of users too.

Now about those anonymous, voluntary reply cards…