Stephen Griffes, operations supervisor at the University of Michigan’s (UM) Shapiro Library, remembers studying in the library during his time as an undergraduate at UM. He also remembers occasionally taking an inadvertent nap or two in that library—as hallowed a college tradition as the keg stand and far more in line with academic values. Now,, the Shapiro library is officially enshrining the importance of a catnap among the stacks, opening a napping station where weary students can recharge by crashing out on convenient cots.
Like the library’s recent switch to 24/7 service during the school year, the nap station was an idea proposed by students. Central Student Government (CSG) representatives started by surveying over 4,000 students, finding out what they valued most in a potential designated nap space, and found that the top priorities were proximity to study areas and classes, making the library a natural partner. CSG also brought in the expertise of UM professor and sleep researcher Shelley Hershner, M.D., who helped make the case that improving student sleep habits, even in such a small way as providing a designated space to nap, could benefit student health and performance.
Advocates for the nap space hope it will serve as a way to educate students about the health dangers posed by pulling all-nighters or consistently operating on too little sleep. “We want to raise awareness of the detrimental impact of sleep deprivation on student health,” said CSG representative Adrian Bazbaz. “We take a lot of precaution over alcohol abuse, drug abuse, depression, but we haven’t tried to tackle this health issue on campus before.”
Taking student input on how library spaces can best serve the population is a priority at UM, said operations supervisor Stephen Griffes, and after overcoming some initial wariness, staff started asking how they could make the idea work.
The first step was finding an appropriate space. Rather than a room set away from the action of the building, Shapiro staff decided that a quiet corner nestled between tech services and the library’s Espresso book printer was the perfect spot, and one where students were already taking a load off. “We decided that would be a good test section, since people were already using it as a comfortable space,” Griffes told Library Journal.
Right now, the nap stations consist of inexpensive vinyl cots and pillows housed in disposable paper pillowcases, the same kind you would see in a hospital setting. While it’s not exactly the lap of luxury, those amenities make for better options than landing face down on a textbook or keyboard. The biggest change for students may be the addition of temporary lockers where they can store their personal belongings. That extra degree of security can help people sleep easier, knowing their jackets and bookbags will be on lockdown until they get their second wind.
According to Griffes, security was a major piece of the puzzle that library staff took into account when creating the nap stations. From the temporary lockers—imported from another location where they weren’t being used—to the placement of the stations on the first floor of the library where staff regularly roam, making sure that students could rest without worry was job one.
A set of higher quality cots, purchased by the CSG, are on their way. The accommodations will likely retain their vinyl and paper coverings, which are easy to replace and wipe down with antibacterial spray, ensuring that spaces for laying down one’s head don’t become breeding grounds for disease [or bed bugs?]. Signage on site reminds students to keep the cots clean, and also to keep their 40 winks to 30 minutes or less. And the combination of low-cost cots, repurposed storage lockers, and placement in an area where staff routinely roam meant the cost to set up the space was very minimal, said Griffes, who declined to give an exact figure for expenditures.
The nap stations, which opened just a few weeks ago, saw some use by students during exams week, but Griffes noted it will take time for the space to make a name for itself. It will have until at least the end of the 2014 fall semester to do that, with the library and CSG planning to coordinate advertising and awareness efforts for the new space once that semester kicks off. Until then, staff will at least be able to direct students dozing elsewhere in the library to a place where they will be comfortable and their gear will be safe. “Instead of bugging someone and waking them up, we’re giving them an alternative,” he said.
While designated napping zones in a university library are rare, they’re not quite unheard of: Wesleyan University installed special high tech nap pods in its Olin and Science libraries in 2012. The pods were donated by Wesleyan alumni Christopher Lindholst and Arshad Chowdhury, co-founders of MetroNaps.