Furniture Testing at University Libraries
By Kiersten Quilliams, Library Specialist
& Chelsea Renaud, Library Specialist
Have you ever wondered how furniture is selected for library spaces? University Libraries works closely with Facilities Planning and tests every table, chair, and study spot to gather student input before making decisions. We will soon be furnishing a new library space in the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health at 333 Michigan and we have already begun testing out new types of furniture. A variety of chairs, tables, and other furniture pieces were placed in the Frey Foundation Learning Center in the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences (CHS) during the Winter semester so that staff could collect feedback and information about each piece of furniture.
University Libraries has a User Experience (UX) team who routinely observe Library spaces and conduct research to understand how every space is used and how each one can be improved. In previous semesters, the UX team used research findings to justify replacing infrequently used furniture in the Steelcase Library Collaboration Zone with more table surfaces and to partially frost the glass windows of the study rooms for additional privacy. At the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons, observations noticed a lack of quiet computer use space, especially during exam times, so University Libraries adjusted one lab to always offer quiet space.
To evaluate furniture for the future library space in the Center for Interprofessional Health, student employees walked through the space every hour to see which pieces of furniture were being used, while also noting any interesting insights they had about usage. Students could also respond to a short survey about how they liked each piece of furniture, how they used it, and could offer additional feedback. This information was then used to pinpoint which pieces of furniture were the most liked, as well as other key factors to consider when choosing furniture for the new space.
For example, the most common feedback from the short surveys on the standing desks was that students liked being able to stand while studying. Many students at CHS responded they spend most of their day in the building for classes and liked having a comfortable place to study on their breaks. “[I like] the ability to stand and move while working. We sit all day in class,” offered one student. Another student added they liked, “The ability to stand because it increases my engagement. I also like the increased space to spread materials out on.”
Other feedback collected was about a two-sided desk. One side has a high surface and one side has a low surface. Students liked that the high surface desk was comfortable and well-lit. “This is my favorite spot because I feel like I can focus the most here,” said one student.
University Libraries designs every space with its users in mind, but user needs are continually evolving. The UX team relies on student input and observations to make informed decisions about furniture needs and space design.