You spoke. We heard: Sound Levels in HPU Libraries

It is not unusual for students to comment to librarians about sounds that others are making when they are trying to work in HPU Libraries.  Students also tell us that although rules and behaviors are expected, they are sometimes not clearly defined. Full disclosure–we have to admit to ourselves as librarians, that the sound level rules are sometimes unclear!

So, in May 2018, HPU Libraries conducted a short survey asking students and library users, what type of sound “environment” they wanted to experience when working in our study spaces.  The survey asked three primary questions.  First, we asked: “When you are studying, what background sound levels do you prefer in the library?”  Choices ranged from “Pin-drop” quiet (absolute silence), to “Low conversation OK” (no phones, no music), to “Rock concert.”  In response to this question, a combined 85% wanted library spaces that are either “Pin-drop” quiet or where “Low Conversation” is allowed.

The second question asked: “Is it important to you to be able to talk to your friends/study partners when you are studying?” Once again, the results were emphatic!  An overwhelming 63% of respondents want to able to talk to their friends or study partners when they are working in the library, and in combination, over 90% want to be able to hold conversations “always” or “sometimes”.  The third question queried if it is important to have designated areas for high/medium/low sound levels.  Again–our library users have spoken!  Nearly 83% of respondents want clearly designated areas that are for high/medium/low sound levels.


You spoke.  We heard.  We acted.

Over the summer we have been working on translating the survey results into clearly understood sound-level “expectations.”  Our solution has two parts.  First, to design a series of graphics that use check-boxes to define four levels of sound: Group study; Phone calls; Quiet conversation and Pin-drop quiet.  Second, we have applied these expectations to individual floors and library spaces, with signs making it clear what you can expect to hear (or not hear!) in each space.


The designated sound levels for each floor of Smith Library are as follows:


And for the Martha Luck Comer Learning Commons (3rd floor Wanek Center):

Pin-drop quiet is strictly enforced in the main area of the Wanek Learning Commons. Even whispered conversation should be limited as much as possible. This includes the two outdoor balcony areas, as noise on the balconies can be disruptive to those studying inside. At the opposite end of the Learning Commons is a glassed-in area with several group study tables. Quiet conversation is allowed in this area–however, we do ask that you keep the volume level low enough so as to not disturb those studying in the main area.

Thank you for helping us with this initiative.  Noisy neighbors can be distracting and annoying.  Good neighbors respect each other’s study preferences. So, if you think a fellow library user needs a reminder about the appropriate sound level, please ask a librarian to come and evaluate the situation.

Together we can create and maintain a sound environment that suits everyone.

-Blog post by Andrew Fair, Evening Reference Librarian