VANCOUVER, Wash. – Karen Diller loves doing research. That passion led her to change majors from archaeology to library sciences, a decision she reached while taking some time off from school to work in a library.
 
That job allowed her to do many interesting things, such as helping patrons find information and learning about the then-new computerized databases and products for doing research. She also discovered that there was a better job market in library science than archaeology, so she made the choice to pursue a new career.
 
Student influx prompts study
 
Diller was working at the WSU Vancouver library in fall of 2006 as the campus began admitting freshman for the first time. The library administration started looking at the use of library space with this influx of new students and also began planning for future expansion. Diller and fellow researcher Sue Phelps used multiple methods to assist the process.
 
Starting with focus groups and a satisfaction survey of library users, they moved on to mapping – painstakingly marking an “X” on a map to show where library patrons were studying. The mapping was done during library hours every day for three weeks.
 
They also used photography to look at how students used other study spaces on campus. Finally, they worked with an independent study student to conduct one-on-one interviews with students to ask why they were choosing to study in particular spaces.
 
Environment’s impact on learning
 
In 2010, Diller and Phelps presented a paper at the National Library Assessment Conference in Baltimore, Md., detailing what they had learned. Although Diller was confident that the study showed what kind of space attracted library users, she did not believe it answered the basic question of what kind of space provides the best learning environment for students.
 
Inspired by graduate work her sister was doing in landscape architecture, designing and building garden space for cancer patients, Diller began to look at the literature in environmental psychology on the impact of environment on people.
 
This led her to ask the following questions about study space: Can the design of study space impact a person’s ability to learn? Is there a way to figure out if one kind of space is more conducive to learning than another? And how would one devise a method to test that?
 
Aims for assessment tool to share
 
Diller received a mini-grant in 2011 allowing her to expand her research and explore the impact of space on student learning. She will conduct an extensive literature search in the field of environmental psychology and adapt two survey instruments used in that field to look specifically at library space.
 
She hopes to develop an assessment tool that will allow her to answer the question of what impact study space has on student learning and to share that instrument with others in her field.
 
Diller sees the library on an academic campus as supporting one of the main goals of the institution – student learning. She hopes that once she develops a valid survey instrument, she and others in her field will be able to use it to gather empirical data and assess the impact of study space on student learning.