Use of the Library's Lobby: Observation and Survey

Study plan

Interior view of Dana Porter's lobby space with the Help desk on the left and the Assignment and Research Help desk on the right.

Background: In 2019, the University of Waterloo Library decided to critically examine the use of space in its Arts and Humanities library, known as Dana Porter. Having recently completed its renovation of the Science and Engineering library, known as Davis Centre, and with reduced use of its Assignment and Research Help (ARH) desk, library staff wanted to know how the lobby spaces were used in both locations, and if there were opportunities for renovations or changed use of the Dana Porter lobby space.

Research Question:

Consulting with the Information Services and Resources department, who manage the ARH desk, and staff who completed the renovation of the Davis Centre lobby, we agreed on the following research questions:

  • How do users move through the lobby space?

  • Does their movement and behaviour change depending on which library they are in?

  • Are there areas of low use and that could restructured?

  • Are there areas of high use or areas where use matches the intention of the space design?


Structured Observations:

  • A structured observation of pedestrian movement was completed in the lobbies of both Library locations.

  • Five observations were conducted in each lobby with two observers, one to note pedestrian movement, the other to capture pedestrian behaviours.

  • Each observation lasted 10-15 minutes between 10 AM and 4 PM.

  • In total, 292 individuals and groups were observed in the Dana Porter library and 419 individuals and groups observed in the Davis Centre Library.


  • Over two days, two in-person survey sessions were held in the lobbies of both libraries. Participants were provided a survey with questions regarding their use of the lobbies. In total, 505 users participated in this survey.

Combined tracings of movement in the Davis Centre Library's lobby.

Summary of Findings

Structured Observations:

  • In Dana Porter, movement in the lobby was kept around the periphery. This was likely due to the placement of the ARH desk as individuals avoided the area in front of this desk.

  • In Porter, most individuals moved through the space without visual urgency. The lobby was often quiet, with few individuals or groups choosing to stay in the space for any length of time.

  • In Davis, the lobby space was lively as groups entering the lobby would chat amongst each other, pausing in place for a time before separating into different areas of the library. The new lounge seating were well used as these areas and often full of individuals and small groups.

  • Compared to Porter, Davis users often entered the library without a coat or bag. With this observation taking place during the Winter, this gives the impression that the Davis Centre was used as a central waypoint where individuals moved freely in and out of the Library.

  • In comparison to Davis, Porters users movement, with less urgency and carrying their coats and bags, gave the impression of users who were arriving to their end destination.

Survey Findings:

  • Most survey participants report entering the Library multiple times a week.

  • The top four reported uses of the lobbies were similar in both locations and confirmed findings from the observations:

    • Moving through to arrive to a secondary location (Davis: 78%, Porter: 61%)

    • Meet with friends (Davis: 40%, Porter: 38%)

    • Use of the printers (Davis: 35%, Porter: 40%)

    • Sit in a lounge space (Davis: 30%, Porter: 42%)

  • Top descriptive words for both locations were positive in terms of space and atmosphere.

    • Porter's lobby space was more often critiques as "generic" or older (16 participants), compared to Davis' lobby space described as space (28 participants) and productive (11 participants)


Reviewing individual movement and use of the space and analyzing participant responses to the survey, the following recommendations were delivered:

  • The success of the Davis lobby renovation was in part due to the use of its low, modular lounge seating located close to the entrance of the library. The addition of similar seating near the entrance may help replicate this effect in Porter, which at that time, had little seating visible at the entrance of the library.

  • The use of Davis Library as a central waypoint may help explain long-standing conflict between students who break the food and drink policy of the library and staff enforcing this policy. A review of this policy is recommended as it was noted in a previous study of the use of the Davis silent study room, a quarter of students surveyed used the study space for 5+ hours at a time.

  • A change in the layout or use of the ARH desk in the Porter Library may provide a short-term improvement to the space. As the Information Services and Resources department, who staff this desk, are reducing hours, this may provide an opportunity for other campus partners to use the space for outreach with students or may provide another seating area for student use.

Post study

During the analysis of this study, the Libraries closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While immediate actions were not able to take place, this study was the foundation for a subsequent large-scale Master Space Plan for the University of Waterloo Libraries.

In this Master Space Plan, results from this and other studies were consolidated, along with semi-structured interviews with undergraduate students, graduates, faculty, campus partners, surveys with students, and a visual study with graduate students.

At the time of my departure, the ARH desk was in the process of experimentation in its use with campus partners.

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