Students-to-Students: Making Free Study Spots Visible

As any consumer that switches from one company to the other, I’m prone to compare the one to the other. With universities, this is no different. When I switched from Utrecht University (UU) to Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), I saw a lot of points that both universities did differently and where they could learn from each other. But the one thing that the EUR needs most, I know exactly what that is.

As any good student, I regularly spend a lot of time on the university, working on projects, reading articles, doing research for my thesis, you name it. In between classes, before or after, I spend this time behind university computers (as I didn’t own a laptop) in the library, in computer rooms, etcetera. However, space is scarce in Utrecht’s university library. Whole generations of students have already been complaining that there are never enough study spots. Discussed measures have gone from a time limit on any computer use to banning HBO students from the library, but these were all rendered impossible to implement for the university. Of course there already existed a rule (and the on-screen timer that goes with it) that you are not allowed to spend more than 30 minutes away from your computer, or you’ll  be logged out and lose your current files, but this solves little as students usually don’t take other peoples stuff away if they want to sit somewhere.

However, since 2010 the library supports an app for smart phones that allows users to search for books and reserve them from their smart phone. As time went by, the functionality of the app was extended, and since 2011 the app features a computer locater (1). This locater shows a plan of the library, one of each floor, and then shows dots where computers are. If the computers are taken, the dots are red, if they’re free, they’re green. No more endless walking around in the library searching for a free spot, no, just one look on your mobile phone and you’ll walk straight towards it. And lately they’ve even made the app interactive: as a user you can now point out which computers are free according to the system, but taken because there are still books and a jacket ect. in front of it. It is therefore no longer the task of the student to remove the stuff from people that are taking breaks that are too long, no, the library staff comes to take it away.

Like ParkingSpotLocater (or any other parking app, for that matter), the UU app has changed everything for students looking for a free computer. No more endlessly walking around, carrying heavy books, but just straight to the right spot. If the UU would do it for money, they would be at least a little richer by now. Situation-based individual value creation? I think the UU has it figured out. And by adding the option to rat out on skippers, they activate and involve students (customers, in this case) to work together on creating a library with better accessible work spots.



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