This research presents an ethnographic account of personal actions and performances of the students in University of Southampton, who are supposed to share a limited area with other students at the university’s library in order to get benefit of every single resource provided by the university. The observation is based on four days participant observation of the students about eight hours per day just before supplementary exams week. I decided to do my field research on this area of subject because I think the most suitable area for the situation I am found in now is library. This ethnographic research focuses on the diverse culture of the Hartley Library. It examines whether students respect to the rights of each other and as well as to the severity of rules at the library. Additionally I could say this could be the aim of the project. It also tries to find out if we know what students are really doing in the library when they are studying. This paper also reports on a study that used qualitative methods to assess what students were doing during the summer term of the library at the University of Southampton. The goal is to try and establish if students are engaged in their studies when using the library. As the period of fieldwork is carried out of term-times of the university, some of the social rules may differ.
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The library opens to the level two of the library where students show lax attitude because it is the only area where people are allowed to make some noise or use mobile phones and it is where the cafe is located. My first observation on the students starts at the main entrance of the building where students have to pass via electronic access by pressing their student cards on digital area. Most of the students always pass the gates freely whereas some of them stuck at the doors because they press their student cards twice. They have to wait there for about thirty seconds however students insist on pressing their cards few times more although they get stuck every time. Main workstations of the library are also located at the entrance floor where one in five students chooses to go directly to workstations of the library. Again at the entrance floor, there are loans desk and self issue machines where students can borrow books, documents or videos where there are couple of workers who help them if they demand for assist. Students generally take their receipts with them after borrowing books in the library whereas some of them leave their receipts next to machines or throw them into bins provided at every corner of library. In front of the exit of the library alarms are located against unfair borrowings and students have to pass from there in order to leave the library. Although I see students who have already scanned everything they borrowed from the library, they always seem to be very nervous while they are walking through the security checks. As soon as they pass safely, they get back to their cheerful faces. The most visible observation I did at this floor is almost every student pay attention not to go through security checks at the same time with others who hold many books in their hands. During term-times, workstations are the busiest areas where students sometimes have to create queues inside the rooms to occupy a computer as soon as the other leaves. However, even out of term times workstations are kind of busy places as students choose to go there both for studying and relaxing a little bit when they get tired of studying. In order to observe what students are actually doing I had to walk through them. I sometimes had to have eye-contact with some students as I was staring what they were doing and this really distracted their attention. Almost everyone put their headphones on with their essays or presentations in progress or watching programmes and listening to music on YouTube. What I found most interesting is students were watching TV programmes or listening to music that are in their own languages and nobody is interested in English programmes at all except English students. Of course I cannot criticize people for doing these but I think if you want to improve your second language, the only way is to watch foreign programmes and communicate in second language as possible.
Level one, three, four and five has to be as silent as possible however students always think they can talk freely while walking up or down the stairs without thinking of the noise which might disturb people who are studying at the tables just in front of the stairs. Only students who are alone do not make noise while entering to the floors.
I was sitting at level one on group working tables to observe what students are actually doing when I realized nobody chooses to sit next to me if the other tables are unoccupied. Students always choose a personal space for themselves by putting their belongings in front of the other seats next to them if it is not already an individual study area. They enlarge their spaces as much as they can. When I watch them I realized it takes up to ten minutes until students get ready to study. At first they take tours around the tables until they find a table where there are few people. I observed a Chinese boy who took many tours around the library and went to sit in a group study room by himself. He covered the entire table with his belongings trying to show he is with a group but I was following his room so I saw he was with nobody. I know this as well from myself there is a psychology at the library “I wish s/he does not sit next to me”. Either this is because we feel that s/he will create noise and prevent us from studying or maybe the feeling that whatever s/he does s/he will distract my attention in any way. What is more, as mentioned above students already pay attention not to sit next to someone. Some students pay much attention while they are sitting next to someone in order not to disturb someone. One set his stuff carefully trying not to do so much noise, placed his laptop on the table and looked for a socket to plug in his laptop. At the same time, he was looking at other students to check if he disturbs someone. On the other hand one who is supposed to speak on the phone has to go to level two of the library. However, students who sit especially on the level four and level five choose to go to the toilets instead of walking long distance up and down during their limited library hours. This is what I would be doing actually if I were them. Also it is possible to see students talking on the phone between the shelves although they must not. What is also observed in the individual studying areas, students choose their sits according to the place of books related to their subjects as well as for saving time. I observed this by watching certain students’ subjects that they were studying at level one. They were looking at books that are mostly related to the languages department.
I stared almost everybody in the library and got the point that everybody tries to find an excuse to distract their attentions. They always have a sudden eye-contact with every single person walking by them or with those who try to occupy a space for them.
At level three of the library, I observed students who are listening to iPod or music from their laptops are studying at the same time, with their feet holding the rhythm together with them. According to my observations, I would easily say that one in three of the students have an iPod headphone in their ears while they are studying. What is quite common between students is they always look at people passing near them for about three or four seconds and get back to their works after ten seconds. This might show how easy it is to distract students’ attention. One was much more interested with the things outside the library; she looked at outside of the library for about five minutes and got back to her work for only ten minutes time. After ten minutes, she went to the cafe, bought a bottle of water, came back and she stayed ten more minutes and left. This kind of students is generally those whose attentions’ are very easy to be distracted by anything that might catch their interests.
It is socially forbidden to speak to each other even it is silently at the individual studying areas where as again, one in three students came to talk their friends at these areas. If they sat together, there is nothing to do there at all. In any way, they will certainly be talking and it is better to change your seat if you hesitate to tell them when you got disturbed. One had to change his place when a couple got their places in front of his table and started chatting. On the other hand, the other one who was speaking to her friend next to her got warned by the girl to be silent because even silent conversations are forbidden at this study area. Ones who need to talk or if it is a group and they need to make loud conversations generally choose a group studying table which are located at the entrance of each level or directly a group studying room which are again located at every floor of library so they can act freely.
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I saw three of my friends at the library who were looking for a group studying room although each of them studies different areas from each other. I asked them what’s the point of studying at the same room if they have nothing to share and they said seeing your friends around you who are studying makes you feel more motivated and especially when you get bored there is always someone where you can talk freely without anyone’s eyes on you. The other two said that they prefer the group studying rooms so they can use whiteboards because they can study by writing down what they are studying.
Almost on every table, there is a label which says “Please return your books to the correct shelves when you are finished with them”. However, when you take a tour around the library it is possible to see on two of five tables there are library books left unattended which shows they will not be used by the student. I examined my friends leave library’s books on the tables and only take those which they are going to borrow from library. While I was looking for something interesting to observe I took a glance at a book which was at one of tables left unattended. This should be a very popular book as it was underlined; highlighted and several notes were taken into the book. Underlining and highlighting the books are also popular between the students according to my observations. Not only students but also tutors use library as well. At level one of the library there is a small place where people can read local newspapers daily. Students as well as tutors are likely to be seen spending time at this part of the library. It is located at the corner where there are coaches to relax and wide windows which allow sun to come in. One with a newspaper in his hand, shoes off and relaxing there is the most common observations you can make there. When sun warms this area most of the students choose to go there and read their books. The newspapers are not allowed to be removed from that area however one student took the newspaper with him to the group studying rooms and read it while eating and drinking. Although students are allowed to bring library only bottle of water, I can say my friends were having picnic at the library.
To conclude, I would say this research was an investigation and valuation of behaviours that take place in library study spaces. Some of the behaviours observed can be grouped together as leisure or social behaviours but these, on the whole, do not seem to distract from academic work being done in the library. Students using cell phone, personal sound devices, or chatting, or napping are generally not the main behavioural activities observed although they do appear. The context of academic learning takes precedence and these other activities seem to promote personal relaxation, and social bonding between students. I would again sum up my observations in points on the general behaviours of students at the library such as;