Furniture feedback in Charles Library: part II

Excerpts from the report on the fall 2021 Charles Library furniture study

In October of 2021, a variety of new furniture options for Charles Library were placed on display in the first-floor event space. From 8 am to 8 pm, for three days, we invited students to test the new furniture and give us their feedback. In coordination with Libraries Facilities Services, I gathered and documented student feedback. Library staff from various departments volunteered to help in the event space and talk with students during the busier times of the day, and the Outreach and Communications team helped me get the word out about the event.

In a previous furniture study in 2019, we learned that students were dissatisfied with the primarily open table/group study seating in Charles. Students wanted seating options that supported focused, individual work – such as private or semi-private carrels – and furniture that was comfortable and supportive enough to work in over long periods. “Cozier” lounge furniture was also desired.

The furniture display featured a study carrel, semi-private booths, laptop tables, and various other seating options.


Taking inspiration from a study at the University of Arizona Libraries, I used a mixed-methods approach to gathering feedback. In the event space, students could fill out comment cards, write on large whiteboards, or chat with us about the furniture. Each item was tagged with a letter for easy identification, e.g. the high-top table and chairs were assigned the letter “H.”

Using different methods allowed us to get a sense of how students liked the pieces individually and to compare pieces that were similar. With COVID safety measures still in place, we also offered online options, Instagram polling and online comment cards, so that students could participate remotely. In-person participants were offered individually packaged snacks in exchange for their time and feedback.


Overall students were pleased with the new furniture choices and excited to give their feedback.

Students liked large work surfaces that can accommodate many study materials at once.
Students want a space where they can spread out laptops, books, notebooks, etc. The laptop table on display was way too small.

laptop table with identifying label D on display

laptop table D

“No. Please. No. No. Please. Where am I supposed to put any of my books?” (laptop table D)

The booths, carrel, high-back sofa, and grey chair were favorites.
The most popular pieces were those that felt comfortable, but supportive, offered some privacy, and could accommodate a range of activities including individual work or socializing.

high top booth on display in event space

booth G

“Super fun, I feel like I’m in a cafe without the pressure of ordering so that I don’t have to leave. Has space for a drink, laptop, books, your backpack and jacket, everything! and I can imagine it being great for convos or studying with a friend” (booth G)


booth labeled K on display in event space

booth K

“I love this one! the privacy and comfort levels are amazing in this booth! I am comfortable yet focused and can work with somebody else” (booth K)

“I love this piece of furniture, the cushion is well designed on the chairs just about every angle I’m sitting in is comfortable — and the table is a perfect size for just about anything” (booth K)


soft seating chair labeled A on display in event space

soft seating A

“Comfort with structured back for support and study, love that…” (chair A)

Soft seating got mixed reviews.
Many students found F to be super comfy, but saw it as less conducive to studying and focused work.

soft seating sofa on display in charles library

soft seating F

E was one of the least popular pieces. Some found it too upright and firm, though others did like the color and noted that it could be a good nap spot.

soft seating labeled E on display in event space

soft seating E

“Feels like I’m awaiting trial in a sci-fi film.” (soft seating E)


Accessibility was a critical factor for those with and without disabilities.
While booth G was one of the most liked pieces, students noted that it was not accessible for those in wheelchairs. Because it wasn’t adjustable, maneuvering in and out of the high-top booth seating seemed potentially challenging for all bodies.

There’s a lot of variation in student preferences for study spaces.
Talking directly with users gave us more insight into preferences around comfort and seating types. While most students loved the privacy of semi-enclosed furniture like the carrel, others described the carrel as too isolating. Being able to look up and see other students at work was motivating, and for some, open study areas felt more productive.

For more details

Take a look at the full report and full list of the furniture that was on display.

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