Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How much space do law students need at desks or carrels?

Earlier this summer, I thought I might try to write something about how much space law students need at study tables or carrels now that laptops are so common. I went first to Leighton and Weber's Planning Academic and Research Library Buildings, my 2nd edition from ALA. This venerable book (tome, actually -it's BIG) is the 1986 update of the even more venerable original by Keyes Metcalf. It's a classic. I see on the ALA website that there is a 3rd edition, here from 1999.

I was just stunned at the foresight of these authors! In 1986, they were already looking into the future to a time when computers would become portable. They imagined students not only wanting space to spread out several books, but also to have notes and a laptop computer in front of them! They discuss accommodations for handicapped users, including specifications that a certain percentage of tables be set high enough for wheelchairs, and separate rooms for readers.

If you need advice or citations to support your requests for certain size tables or carrels, see this book! Look in the index under carrels or tables, and look to "size" as a subheading. The authors differentiate between undergraduate use and graduate student use, granting the graduate students a larger size. They give specific dimensions, and recommended layouts, with in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of each option. This book seems to be everything a librarian -- or architect -- could need for space planning and renovations. The discussions on seating repeat all the wisest things I have heard at meetings or online discussions of the issues as well. I heartily recommend the book - to write anything new would just be to repeat what they have already said!

Quick answer: they give 40 sq. feet as the recommended size allotment for a "research carrel" and 25 sq. feet for "open tables" (from Table B.1, formula C of size allotments at page 565). I really recommend reading the book itself, though, for lots of commentary and illustrations of solutions to problems posed by building design: columns, bays in stacks, etc. For instance, the size allotment for open tables is considerably smaller, because students do not like to sit side-by-side at tables, and will use 2 out of 4 seats at a table, sitting catty-corner when they have a choice and must share a table. So, as we see every day in our libraries, they spread out beyond the actual allotment for that seat.

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