As much as I love studying with my AirPods, there is a slight glitch that’s been bugging me: Siri is a bit too eager to chat. Usually, when the AirPods are in my ears and a new message comes in, Siri will announce its contents through the earbuds; it’s a useful feature, even if it sometimes catches me off guard. However, for about five seconds after I put my AirPods back in their case, any incoming messages will still be read aloud by Siri — but instead of coming through the pods, they’ll be announced on speaker to the whole world.
One of the first nights of the fall term, I had holed myself up in the shatteringly silent Tower Room to try and get ahead on my assignments for the term. After a few hours of studying, I yawned, stretched and put my AirPods away. Just as I was getting up to leave, my phone then blared, “Mom says, ‘I love you so so much, and good luck on your first week, honey. Kisses.’” Slowly, each student in the room turned their head in my direction, pity in their eyes, as Siri’s echoes rang through the cavernous space.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: Uber-quiet study spaces just aren’t for me. I’m a clumsy, noisy guy who often blurts out the first thing that comes to mind, and places like the Tower Room just aren’t conducive to productivity for me. Of course, I don’t want to be in the middle of Times Square while writing a paper — I just enjoy an environment where casual conversation is permitted without frustrating the other students around me.
Unfortunately, this kind of study space is severely lacking at Dartmouth. It’s most present on the library’s first floor, where both Baker’s lobby and the first floor of Berry are spaces to chat with friends while studying. Then there’s also Collis and ’53 Commons, both unofficial “loud” study spaces. Outside of that, however, Dartmouth’s study areas are all quiet. Sanborn Library is silent, the stacks are frigid zones of stillness and the top two floors of Berry are fortresses of solitude. The 1902 room, the class of 1913 room, the Orozco Mural room, the aforementioned Tower Room, Fairchild, Rauner… the list goes on and on. If a student is seeking a quiet place to get some work done, they have it — and then some.
While this imbalance is clearly a problem, there’s a solution that has already arrived on campus: The freshly-opened, beautiful Irving Institute and Engineering and Computer Science Center. Both these modern monoliths are home to copious amounts of study space, spanning floors and in various forms. Coinciding with the opening of these new buildings, students have been pouring into the new spaces to study — relieving much of the crowdedness of Dartmouth’s most popular studying spots, particularly in the library. However, these spaces are so new that norms haven't been set yet. So while they’re still in this amorphous state of noise, it’s crucial that we, as a community, guide them towards becoming social studying spaces rather than even more quiet zones.
This is only enforced by the opening of two new cafes on campus — Cafe@Baker located in Baker lobby and The Fern in Irving — with the Back of the Napkin on its way to the Engineering and Computer Science Center. There’s always been a strong relationship between coffee shops and casual studying, both at Dartmouth and beyond. In fact, the demand for this type of environment is so strong that the places that do offer it are overrun by mobs of students. Novack Cafe is almost always a zoo, and in-town coffee shops like Still North and Umpleby’s are near-impossible to find a table at during rush hour. By opening these new cafes, Dartmouth will hopefully be able to take some of the strain off these places — but they’ll only be able to do so if they offer the same lively work environment these coffee shops have mastered.
Of course, it’s important to address the fact that there are some legitimate hesitations with letting the noise levels of these study spaces be free rein. In both buildings, some of the new study spaces are located right outside classrooms, and an overly rowdy student body could potentially impact the lessons occurring inside. However, in order for conversations to reach a pitch loud enough to impact a classroom a closed door away, students would have to be virtually screaming at each other — which is not something that occurs in any of the other louder study spaces on campus (well, with a few exceptions). In Baker-Berry, there are already classrooms that take place right outside study spaces with no issue whatsoever. So unless the noise levels of these study areas somehow approaches Foco pancake night, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Additionally, we’re now living in a mask-free society for the first time in over two years. Over the course of the pandemic, students have been starved again and again of opportunities for social interaction, and these study spaces could act as fantastic incubators for new connections. By allowing these study spaces to be defined by their social nature, Dartmouth can offer a chance for their newly maskless students to finally revel in their communities without any social inhibitors.
Silent study spaces have plenty of upsides. There’s nowhere more tranquil on campus than the Tower Room at sunset, and nowhere more productive than fourth floor Berry during finals season. Sanborn and Rauner are beautiful places to make substantial progress on homework, and the stacks have, well, all kinds of uses. But Dartmouth has an incredibly diverse range of students, each with their own method of processing information. And for a huge chunk of them — myself included — there’s simply not enough social study spaces on campus to keep up with demand. By stopping the study areas in the two new buildings from becoming silent spaces, Dartmouth will enrich their intellectual offerings even further and provide a more welcome environment for students of all kinds.
So next time my Siri goes haywire, hopefully it’ll fly a little more under the radar.