Group Study Room Usage Patterns: Visualizing Library Data

Spring 2008-Fall 2010

Background

While staff at NCSU Libraries' D.H. Hill Library at North Carolina State University have long been aware that the demand for group study rooms outstrips the available supply, data collected by the online group study room reservation system has not been analyzed in depth. In 2011 the Digital Library Initiatives Department joined with Access and Delivery Services and Research and Information Services to perform an analysis of the available data.

The current online reservation system for group study rooms has been available since January 15, 2008. While another online reservation system existed prior to 2008, the system had various technical glitches – such as the inability to prevent double bookings – and was not used heavily. The new reservation system was developed to remedy technical glitches and to improve the user experience. In the current online room reservation system patrons are able to reserve a room for up to two hours once in a 24-hour period. Information captured by the reservation system includes the date and length of the reservation, whether the room reserver is a student, staff member, or faculty, and the major of each student.

Research Questions

While many of the stakeholders' questions were supported by the data, some were not. This was because certain fields are not required and some information is not tracked by the room reservation system. Questions that could be addressed include:

  • What are temporal trends in use of group study rooms, for example, over the years, the course of a semester, day of the week, and hour of the day?
  • Are some rooms reserved more than others?
  • What is the breakdown of room reservers by role?
  • Do we see a core set of people reserving rooms over and over? If so, what is the breakdown of reserver roles within this group?
  • What are patterns in the length of time for which rooms are reserved?

Questions that could not be answered include:

  • What patterns do we see in stated reasons for room reservations?
  • What patterns do we see in student reservers broken down by gender or by year in school, or by graduate student versus undergraduate student?
  • Of all student room reservers and of the most frequent room reservers, what is the breakdown of college majors?

Executive Summary

The number of reservations made per semester over three years has remained fairly constant with the exception of a significant increase in use over the course of the first semester that the current online room reservation system was put in place. This increase can probably be attributed to the success of the system itself in helping users reserve rooms. Lack of much fluctuation in usage rates from semester to semester since Fall 2008 may lend support to the argument that group study rooms have been functioning at near capacity for several years.

Group study room usage is highest Monday through Thursday and lowest on Saturday. In terms of hour of the day, 3:00pm to 6:00pm represents the peak usage time, though usage is also high from 10:00am to midnight. Group study room usage is lowest from 1:00am to 8:00am. Usage increases over the course of the semester, peaking at the end of the semester in week 17 and falling rapidly during the end of finals (week 18). Use is lowest at the beginning of the semester (weeks 1-3), but fairly high for the rest of the semester, with the exception of holidays.

All ten study rooms have remarkably similar total usage. Each room accounts for 9-11% of the total. This could imply that patrons have no preference for one room over another, or that patrons rarely have the ability to choose which room they want due to high demand. When reservations are analyzed during the lowest usage period in order to offset the effects of limited room options, usage is still fairly evenly distributed across rooms, but Learning Commons Group Study Room A is the most popular room and the Bookstacks Floor 2 Group Study Room (which is configured differently than that other tower study rooms) is among the least popular study room choices. Bookstack study rooms other than Floor 2 appear to follow a general trend in popularity from lower floors to higher ones, though the differences in usage are quite small.

Students make approximately 87% of all room reservations. Faculty represent less than one percent of all room reservations, and NCSU staff represent 5%. Over three years, a fifth of all users have reserved a room only once. Almost half (43%) of all users have reserved a room up to five times. About 3% of all users have made reservations more than 20 times. Students represent 80-90% of all reservers in any given reservation frequency group.

Patrons vastly prefer to make the maximum length reservation available in the system; more than 60% of all reservations are for the full two-hour period allowed. Less than 10% of reservations are made for the minimum period of 30 minutes. This pattern holds true across individual rooms as well as the total set of room reservations.

Methodology

Data for ten group student rooms was analyzed. The study rooms for which data was analyzed include the Presentation Practice Room, Learning Commons Group Study Rooms A and B, and the seven group study rooms in the library stacks (Bookstacks Group Study Rooms 2 through 8). All of the group study rooms have the same equipment except the Bookstacks Floor 2 and the Presentation Practice Room. See Appendix A for a description of the technology and equipment in each room. Rooms that were not analyzed in this study include the Usability Research Lab (which can only be reserved with special permission), the Digital Media Lab (which differs from other rooms because reservations are for workstation use, not for the room itself), and the Mini-Theater. The Presentation Practice Room is reserved through a separate interface than other rooms.

A patron is able to reserve a room for up to two hours one time in a 24-hour period. Room reservations may not be extended, and patrons must choose to reserve a room in half hour increments up to two hours. The study rooms are open for use during the same hours as D.H. Hill Library, 24-hours a day Sunday through Friday until 10:00pm, and closed Friday and Saturday 10:00pm through 9:00am. Interactive visualizations (shown as static visualizations in the PDF version of this report) were created using Google Visualization API.

Visualizations and Findings

In order to observe temporal trends in usage of group study rooms, usage was examined over the years, by day of the week, by hour of the day, and over the course of the semester.

Reservations over years

The number of reservations made per semester for the ten group study rooms has increased at a slow rate over time with the exception of 2008. There was a 50% increase in number of room reservations from Spring 2008 to Fall 2008.

trends in use over years

The most logical explanation for the increase in study room usage is the creation of the new online room reservation system itself. Large increases in use support the idea that the 2008 reservation system succeeded in providing a more effective tools for patrons and that the marketing of the tool on the website in Spring 2008 was effective. The small increases in use from semester to semester since Fall 2008 may lend support to the argument that group study rooms have been functioning at near capacity for several years.


Reservations by day of the week

When the number of room reservations for all rooms over three years is averaged, group study room usage was found to be highest Monday through Thursday and lowest on Saturday. This is the same pattern observed in patron computing transactions, and may indicate the general trend of library physical space usage over the course of a week (note that on Friday and Saturday evenings the library closes at 10:00pm and reopens at 9:00am the following day. Otherwise the library is open 24 hours a day). Once gate count data is analyzed, data should be compared for similarities or differences.

trends in use by day of the week


Reservations by hour of the day

When the number of room reservations for all rooms over three years is averaged, group study room usage is highest from 3:00pm to 6:00pm. This diverges from the pattern for patron computing logins, reference transactions, and gate counts, for which peak usage occurs between 11:00am and 4:00pm. Group study room usage is fairly high from 10:00am to midnight. Group study room usage is lowest from 1:00am to 8:00am. This period of lowest use commences later than the low use periods for other services examined to date within the library; the lowest periods of gate count entrance rates, reference transactions volume, and patron computing transaction volume begin at midnight.

trends in use by hour of the day

The up-down patterns observed at certain points over the 24-hour cycle is most likely the effect of the high percentage of reservations that are two hours in length. For example, if most rooms are reserved for two hours beginning at midnight, there will be a dip in reservations beginning at 1:00am followed by an increase in availability and reservations at 2:00am.


Room reservations by semester week

When the number of room reservations for all rooms over three years is averaged, group study room usage is found to increase over the course of the semester and peak at the end of the semester in week 17, falling drastically in the very last week of the semester during the end of finals. Use is lowest at the beginning of the semester (weeks 1-3). However, use is fairly high from the week 4 through week 17. This trend is the opposite of the trend in patron computing volume in the library, which peaks at the beginning of the semester and then decreases gradually. The two large dips in usage represent the effects of Thanksgiving, Spring, and Fall breaks on the overall trend.


Reservation patterns by room

In order to determine whether patrons prefer some group study rooms to others, group study room reservations were broken down by room. All ten rooms under observations have remarkably similar usage over three years. Each of the ten rooms accounts for 9-11% of total usage. This could imply that patrons have no preference for one room over another, or that patrons rarely have the ability to choose which room they want due to high demand. The chart below shows a slight preference for the two Learning Commons group study rooms over other rooms. Most of the Bookstacks study rooms show very small differences in usage.

trends in reservation by room

If the two rooms that contain different equipment (the Bookstacks floor 2 and the Presentation Practice Room) are considered apart, the graph above could be interpreted as showing a small preference for the study rooms closest to the ground floor. This might imply that patrons prefer to travel as short a distance as possible. The order of study rooms shown in the graph above also happens to be the order in which the rooms are displayed to users in the online reservation interface (again discounting the Bookstacks floor 2 and the Presentation Practice Room). The slight preference shown for rooms closer to the ground floor might instead imply that patrons have no preference for one of the eight identical study rooms over another but simply book the first room available in the online interface. This argument may be more plausible than the first because the graph shows that Learning Commons study room A is preferred over B. While both these locations are equidistant from the ground floor, A is the first study room listed in the online reservation system. Less use of Presentation Practice Room may reflect the fact that reservation of the room is through a separate reservation system.


Reservation patterns by room during downtime

Several signs point to the fact that group study room usage may frequently approach maximum capacity, including anecdotal evidence from RIS staff, the fact that increases in use have remained low or steady for five semesters, and the fact that all ten study rooms have fairly similar shares of overall use. For this reason, use of individual study rooms was also analyzed during downtime in the hopes that preference patterns would be revealed when there is more room availability.

When total room reservations from 2:00am to 8:00am were analyzed, usage is still fairly evenly distributed across rooms and preference for Bookstacks rooms still follows the same general trend from lowest to highest. Of note is that Learning Commons A is more clearly the preferred study room. Learning Commons B is less popular during downtime and the Presentation Practice Room is more popular during downtime, but differences are within half a percentage point. The Bookstacks Floor 2 Room (configured differently than that other study rooms) remains among the least popular study room choices.

trends in reservation by room


Room reserver analysis

Stakeholders were interested in better understanding the makeup of the group of patrons who reserves group study rooms. In order to examine this question, reservers were analyzed by role (student/staff/faculty), major (among students), and by frequency of reservation alongside role.

Reservation by reserver role

The room reservation system tracks information on the role of patrons making reservations. The role can be "student," "staff," "faculty," or "unknown." Student reservers represent approximately 87% of all room reservations made over the past three years. Faculty reservers represent less than one percent of all room reservations, and NCSU staff represent 5%. The remaining reservers were unidentified in a role.

When total room reservations from 2:00am to 8:00am were analyzed, usage is still fairly evenly distributed across rooms and preference for Bookstacks rooms still follows the same general trend from lowest to highest. Of note is that Learning Commons A is more clearly the preferred study room. Learning Commons B is less popular during downtime and the Presentation Practice Room is more popular during downtime, but differences are within half a percentage point. The Bookstacks Floor 2 Room (configured differently than that other study rooms) remains among the least popular study room choices.

trends in reservation by room

Reservers by frequency of reservation

In order to determine whether the library sees a core set of reservers or numerous first-time reservers, patrons who have reserved rooms in the past three years were grouped by the number of times each had reserved a room. The results are shown in the graph below.

trends in reservation by room

A fifth of all users have reserved a room only once. Almost half (43%) of all users have reserved a room between one and five times. About 3% of all users have made reservations more than 20 times over three years. The ratio of reserver roles remains fairly consistent across frequency categories, with students representing 80-90% of all reservers in any given reservation frequency group.

Reservations by Major

While the room reservation system is able to acquire information on student majors from other campus systems, this information is provided by the colleges and is not normalized. For example, many majors are listed several times by different names. It is impossible to conduct analysis of group study room use by major without normalized data. A second issue to consider when conducting analysis of room reservations by major is that different majors represent different percentages of the total student body. It would be more meaningful for analysis if we not only had a clear picture of what percentage of room reservations corresponds to which majors, but also the percentage of the total student body that corresponds to each major.

Hundreds of majors are represented in the room reservation database, and most compose fairly small percentages of total room reservations. An incomplete and quick data normalization process produced the graph below, showing an example of the top ten majors that have reserved group study rooms over the past three years. However, the data is fairly meaningless without further normalization. While the chart shows "biological sciences" to represent by far the largest number of reservations, this grouping probably comprises several different majors.

trends in reservation by room


How long are rooms reserved for?

The room reservation system allows patrons to reserve a room for either half an hour, one hour, or two hours. Patrons' preference for duration of reservation was averaged over three years.

Time span % of reservations
30 minutes 7%
1 hour 29%
2 hours 64%

Patrons vastly prefer the maximum-length reservation available in the system. Almost two-thirds of all reservations are for the full two-hour period allowed. Less than 10% of reservations are made for the minimum period of 30 minutes. This pattern holds true across individual rooms as well as the total set of room reservations, with 30-minute reservations ranging form 6-7% of the total, one-hour reservations ranging from 25-35% of the total, and two-hour reservations ranging from 58-68% of the total per given room.

The high percentage of maximum-length reservations could be a side effect of the fact that there is no penalty or cost to reserving a study room for the maximum amount of time. If a group is unsure how long they will want a room, the only safe option is the full two-hour reservation, since rooms tend to fill up.


Addressing further questions

One question that remains to be answered is what patrons are actually doing in the group study rooms. Are they using them for group study or for individual study? Are they taking advantage of the technology and furniture or simply using the rooms as quiet study areas? There is no way to determine this information with the data gathered by the online room reservation system. The Libraries would need to gather observational data manually.

If stakeholders are interested in looking at reservation patterns by major, someone will need to map the majors to a normalized list of majors.

Patterns in reasons why patrons reserve rooms could not be analyzed because very few patrons list a reason. This field is not required and almost no one fills it out. If stakeholders want to be able to analyze reasons for room reservations, there will need to be a required field. Stakeholders could consider adding a short list of controlled options from which users could check one or more activities alongside the optional free-text reason field. The optional free-text reason field is used to feed GroupFinder display data and should not be transformed into a controlled activities list.


Appendix A

Tower group study rooms on floors 3 through 8 as well as the Learning Commons study rooms A and B are equipped with identical technology. The technology in these rooms includes:

  • Wall-mounted 43" LCD screens with speakers and central VGA plugins for sharing the screen
  • Large work table with eight chairs
  • Movable whiteboards

The bookstacks group study room on floor 2 does not have any technology, only space for study.

The Presentation practice room includes:

  • LCD Overhead projector
  • 14 foot mounted dry-erase board
  • Walk-and-Talk interactive whiteboard
  • Reconfigurable tables to seat 14
  • Podium
  • Smart Glass exterior wall that can be made clear or opaque

Last updated: July 18, 2011