Musical Chairs: Understanding Limited Library Seating

The library is a space many students prefer for studying because of its quiet atmosphere and ample resources. But because of its popularity, it gets filled up quickly.

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Stuyvesant’s library is a landmark in many students’ daily lives. There, one can sit down to study, work on a school computer, or read a book for personal enjoyment. Students can take advantage of available printers if they don’t have one at home or if the second-floor printing station becomes too crowded. Computers are always readily available, whether in the form of desktops on standing desks or laptops (and perhaps an accompanying pair of headphones) that can be checked out for the period. The library itself is a rare quiet space where students can work in peace, away from the chaos of open areas such as the Sophomore Bar and the Half Floor. Unfortunately, because the resources and environment that the library offers are hard to find elsewhere in the school building, it gets filled up quickly, leaving many students stranded by the “LIBRARY FULL” sign on its closed door.

Junior Tammiyah Shafiq, who is a library monitor, explained why the library reaches full capacity so rapidly. “They close the library when there [are] no more seats. And that's around, like, 80 to 90, almost 100 people,” Shafiq said. With several hundred students free each period of the day, the library naturally has to turn away some of those wishing to grab a seat.

According to librarians Christina Kennedy and Mary McGregor, the number of students permitted in the library each period is not arbitrary; it is proportional to the number of librarians on duty that period. “We really should be limiting it to around 50 students per librarian. [...] In reality, we take more like 80 or 90 when there's one of us,” McGregor said. Since the librarians already accommodate more students than is comfortable, they can’t allow additional students in as the period progresses. “When we close the door and say it's full, even if you see people leaving, we're still pretty full. We're still kind of over what we think is a good ratio for a librarian to do by themselves,” McGregor explained. The main reason behind the occupancy limit is that the librarians can only oversee a certain number of students at once. “Once you have one kid [who needs] help finding a book, [or] one kid with a research question, [or] one printer issue, all of a sudden that's one librarian [that can] only focus on that thing and not the other [...] people in the room,” McGregor described. The librarians intend to make the library a calming, studious environment, but they must prioritize student safety in the space above all else. “[If more] kids were here, people would be standing, people would be sitting on the floor, and then that does cause issues with having clear paths [and] also [the Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance, which is something we have to keep in check,” McGregor added. 

In the event of an emergency, an overcrowded library would inhibit school exit protocol and put both students and librarians at risk. “[The librarians] want people only sitting on the benches or on [places] designated for seating [so as not to create a] fire hazard [or] a safety hazard,” Shafiq explained.

There is yet another factor affecting the number of students that can be accommodated at once: class trips to the library. Periodically, a librarian will lead an English or history class on a topic such as research databases in one section of the library, greatly reducing the number of seats available for other students. When these events occur, the librarians cap the number of students admitted at 50. Though this may seem like a nuisance to some, the library’s layout is designed for multipurpose use: its oblong shape allows students to work in one part of the library while a lesson is being taught in the other. Stuyvesant’s library is divided into multiple sections: toward the west, there are several benches to sit on alongside rows of nonfiction books. In the middle of the library, just beyond the front doors, there are round tables, the circulation desk, and printers. Slightly to the east, there are standing desks with desktop computers. In all three of these sections, students are able to be productive while a lesson occurs at the larger tables in the easternmost section.

There’s a reason the library is so popular: many students feel it is the best spot in the building to work. Senior Madhavi Tiruchelvam, a library monitor, attested to the library’s intrinsic qualities that encourage productivity. “You can't really be in the library and not work. It's very hard to just be unproductive because it's so quiet. I can't distract myself as easily,” Tiruchelvam described. Not only is the library a good workspace because of its studious atmosphere, but it also feels accessible to students. “It's very welcoming. Anyone can come [to] the library [...] It's just like a place where you can quietly and calmly really let your mind expand a little bit,” Tiruchelvam added. Though nabbing a seat may require rushing to the sixth floor as soon as the period ends, the library feels like a calm oasis as soon as one steps inside.

Shafiq explained that the library is helpful if students ever need additional school supplies or a kind face on a tough day. “Librarians are really helpful,” Shafiq described. “They also have a lot [of] supplies there. So if I ever had a project, they would have everything.”

The library houses many other resources often overlooked by students. “[Before senior year,] I never knew we had textbooks or test prep books or headphones,” Tiruchelvam said. “I don't have to bring a textbook everywhere I go because the library has them.” Considering the huge burden it is to carry around a thick textbook, especially when one’s locker is in an inaccessible location, these resources are invaluable. 

When students don’t make it to the library before it reaches full capacity, they have to find somewhere else to work. Most flock to the hallways, especially those on the first floor or the upper floors, which are generally quieter and offer more seating. “I usually go to the first [floor] because they have a lot of benches,” sophomore Crystal Wu said. 

Though many students enjoy the library and its quiet atmosphere, others prefer to work elsewhere. Sophomore Siena Short explained that she never goes to the library; instead, she works in the hallways or at home. “I find it just as effective to study or read in the hallways, and I don't like that [I’m not allowed to] eat in the library, which is something that I like to do when I'm studying,” Short said. Additionally, Short prefers to have less supervision from adults like librarians, because she feels it adds a degree of freedom to her study methods. “I don’t like that [...] it's a study space that's watched by teachers. When I'm studying, I don't want to have any confinements,” Short explained. 

Sophomore Amy Gurcharan also prefers study spots outside of the library. “To be [honest], I don't like the fact that it's so quiet,” Gurcharan admitted. However, she acknowledged that the library can be very useful when completing certain types of assignments. “It's good for group working,” Gurcharan explained. “You just go and work and get everything done in the library.” Even students who don’t enjoy working in the library spend time there collaborating on group projects—another reason why it gets filled up so quickly.

Only one group of students is always allowed into the library during their free periods, regardless of whether it is full or not: the library monitors. Spend a period in the library and you may notice that the person stationed behind the circulation desk isn’t a librarian but the student who sits behind you in geometry class. Library monitors help the librarians complete a plethora of tasks, such as reshelving books, managing the printers, and working the circulation desk, where students can check out everything from manga to economics textbooks. At the beginning of each semester, any student can apply to become a library monitor by expressing interest and noting their free periods on a sign-up form available on the library section of the school website. There are only around six monitors per period, creating a tight-knit community. “I like [...] the monitoring community—we're all cuddled together, talking about really niche things like shelving,” Tiruchelvam shared. 

The presence of library monitors builds on the student-centered nature of the library. Library monitors are students themselves and help one another work through their responsibilities. Each monitor, librarian, and student contributes to the library’s thriving, dynamic ecosystem.

The library may fill up quickly, but that is a testament to the space’s popularity among students. “I've never really heard anything bad [about the] library,” Shafiq pointed out. “[Its closing] could be frustrating, but I don't think people understand why.”

The librarians stressed that they don’t like having to turn students away. “I wish students would understand that we are trying our best to help them,” Kennedy emphasized. However, when the library becomes full, the librarians must restrict access to maintain a supportive and safe environment for all visitors.

The library is a quintessential part of the Stuyvesant community, a room dedicated to making students’ high school experience just a little bit better. For many students, the scanning of one’s ID card in the library’s foyer is a ritual that gets them excited for a period of productivity and quiet.