Illustration by Zelalem Waritu.

The Library Café: Study Space or Social Area?

Due to limited study spaces on campus, students have flocked to the library café for all academic work, resulting in a tension-breeding dichotomy between the former and those who use the space for recreation. What is the space actually for?

Oct 31, 2021

The area outside NYU Abu Dhabi’s library café has found itself in a perpetual state of ambivalence as it attempts to satisfy two diverging groups of students. One swift glance at those tables aligned sporadically on the third floor of C2 and anyone can sense the tacit chasm between the intentions of students there and, thereby, the tension brewing.
The space toes the line between being a place for students to socialize and an extension of the library, a place strictly for studying. With respect to the former, students can be found using the area to quickly catch up between classes or spend the early (that often turn into late) hours of the night playing board games and embracing the innate spirit of university life. As for the latter, students look to it in hopes of finding a serene place where they can revise, work and attend classes — all while savoring a cup of coffee or a pastry from the café.
The university has made an effort to try and delineate the library café’s role in the school’s ecosystem with a grand banner boldly asserting “Study Here” with an arrow pointing to the library and “Chat Here” with an arrow pointing to the library café. Yet, that is rarely the case.
Students who hope to silently study can find the disturbance from those socializing to be a nuisance, at times feeling inundated to the point that they speak up and ask others to reduce their noise level. Inversely, those utilizing the café to interact with one another grow cognizant and self-aware of the disruption they may be causing and can feel out of place and vilified.
Hamdan Zoghbor, Class of 2025, voiced his opinions regarding the library café. In spite of it being his intended place to study, he finds that it is pretty noisy sometimes. He pointed out the change in atmosphere after 7 p.m. He doesn’t want it to become another version of the marketplace, but doesn’t think it should be a strict place where people whisper.
Ultimately, this clash elicits a degree of silent hostility — and in certain acute cases — voiced spite between groups of students. It also generates a disagreeable environment and experience for both students studying and socializing, even when each respective opinion is reservedly withheld.
There’s also a third category of students that finds itself stuck between the two aforementioned classifications: those that employ the space to study in a group. Whether each may be studying individually or the group as a whole is working collectively, these students cannot be classified unequivocally with one of the two groups defined earlier and, therefore, warrant an additional bracket.
While addressing this may seem futile, doing so unveils the silent ramifications of the university’s Covid-19 guidelines. Seeing as the library was closed for the duration of last year, it was not an accessible place to study for students residing on campus. Naturally, the library café transformed into a substitute for the library, providing students a tranquil place to work but giving rise to the issue at hand and rationalizing the tendency for some students to see the library café as a sanctum for studying.
However, it is evident to me, a first-year, that the arrival of a new class of first years — largely untouched by and unaware of the status quo that emerged from last year’s restrictions — particularly complicated the issue this year. As they navigate the campus through a novel lens, they naturally disturb the unspoken rules developed during the pandemic. That’s not to say tirades on the Room of Requirement Facebook group will help elucidate café use. On the contrary, they only serve to create an environment that ostracizes, rather than welcomes, new students.
This issue ultimately taps into a larger conversation regarding the studying facilities currently available on campus, the closure of which impedes the university’s work environment. The inaccessibility of group study rooms and meeting rooms in the library pushes students looking to work on group projects or study together to use the café. The 2 p.m. to 12 a.m. window of time currently set for the study rooms behind the Baraha also limits the study locations students can choose from outside these hours.
Opening up more spaces alongside expanding the time frame during which certain facilities are open could aid in dissipating the degree of ambiguity in the library café’s ambiance and outlining where students are directed to study — changes that are currently being sought by Student Government. In addition, more information can be disseminated to incoming students regarding campus spaces and how they ought to be used.
There are also fears that this use of the library café will lead to overcrowding, not to mention a buildup of garbage. The library café, in addition to being a space for faculty, is commonly used by visitors. With the foreseeable easing of Covid-19 restrictions in the future and an increase in visitors to the campus, a waste-ridden café will certainly mar the university’s image and spark questions regarding its students’ practices.
The library café is a place for students to converse and mingle. Students looking for a place to study shouldn’t be misadvised from doing so, but they ought to be aware that the space is one that accommodates commotion.
Firas Darwish is a Staff Writer. Email him at
gazelle logo