Eugene McDermott library looks to take disruptive student behavior off the books

Jumping on tables and sword fights with tube lights are just some of the ways students have been disrupting the McDermott Library’s quiet spaces, an SG representative said. With on-campus foot traffic now increasing, library officials seek to curb disruptive behavior with updated noise policies and new furniture to prevent cross-talk.

The goal of the McDermott Library is to provide a quiet environment in which to study and do work, but some students are increasingly compromising that quiet. Study rooms are provided for those who wish to work in groups or talk, but not all students seem to be aware of this fact. These behavioral issues have accelerated since the return to campus. Cognitive science sophomore Kruthi Kanduri—who was a Student Government representative on the University-Wide Library Committee last year—discussed some of the incidents that were shared at the committee’s annual meeting.

“Some of the crazier stories that were told were that, basically, students used the tube lights as light sabers to fight each other, [they were] standing on the tables…along with other crazier stories,” Kanduri said. “Most significantly and the least crazy is just that quiet floors were no longer quiet. There was a lot of confusion about where and when students should be quiet, and the library was supposed to be, you know, a quieter place for people to study and a more central location on campus. It ended up being not so quiet just because there were a lot of patrons who had no idea how to use it and be quiet.”

Library staff patrol the floors by the hour, but, as Ellen Safley—the Library’s dean—said, there is fundamentally an issue of capacity. The library’s size has not changed since the 1980s, when only 5,000 students attended UTD. In 2022, there are roughly 600 seats for nearly 30,000 students. The rapid return to campus has not helped the issue. In March 2021, the library’s cumulative gate count—which tracks the number of students entering the building—for the entire month was only 2,976. In March 2022, that gate count hit 84,729, averaging out to almost 3,000 students a day.

The McDermott Library is actively pursuing several solutions to the problem of noise. There is a new Code of Conduct in the works for the Library specifically outlining what is expected of patrons and consequences for not behaving appropriately. The library is also looking into obtaining furniture specially designed to be less conducive to conversation, including more individual seating and “egg-shaped” chairs meant to reduce cross-talk. The Assistant Director of Public Services at the McDermott Library, Travis Goode, emphasized that the Library is actively working on resolving the noise problem. Safley added that the library is for the students of UTD, and that students need to take ownership and create the environment that they want for themselves.

“Honestly,” Kanduri said, “I think the most important thing is to just be mindful of quiet floors, and if you go to a library: don’t yell, don’t scream, don’t talk too loud. That’s what we learn as kids, growing up and going to the library. So it’s the same—be respectful of the library’s environments, be respectful of the people around you. And also, of course, be respectful of the furniture.”