Library renovations enhance student study spaces

Faculty and staff at the Joel Katz Library at the University of Tennessee College of Law are creating opportunities for students to spend more time studying more comfortably. 

Throughout the fall semester, upgrades have been made on the first and fourth floors leaving expanded study spaces with seating that allows students to spread out and relax while they work.

Sibyl Marshall, associate professor and head of public services, said the fourth-floor space upgrade – which added 25 new study carrel desks and four oversized study chairs – was possible after some of the library materials were removed. 

Acquisitions Supervisor Suzanne Smalley said throughout the last several years, the library has replaced physical copies of books with digital collections from reputable sources that provide permanent access.

“Back in 2017, we cancelled a large number of print state statutory codes because of online availability and lack of use of these print resources,” Smalley said. “I believe we were one of the last law library hold outs in the country to have that many state codes in print.”

After removing unneeded books and materials, library staff determined that seven rows of shelving – stretching nearly wall to wall across 20 feet of floor space – could be eliminated from the fourth floor. 

Facilities services workers were then contracted to run electric outlets to all 29 of the new study areas.


“Bottom line, we don’t want to be just a book museum,” Marshall said. “We tried to take into consideration the things that make it comfortable for people to stay and work. They need outlets for devices – a consideration we didn’t have to make when the library was built more than 20 years ago – and tray tables, and space to spread out.”

First-floor upgrades, while not as extensive, include 12 new chairs, three tables and the removal of unused built-in bookshelves.

The “soft seating” in both areas is an experimental departure for the library, Marshall said. The unique study spaces provide a more home-like environment, and Marshall and the library staff are anxious to see how students use the space.

“So far, students have been very positive,” she said. “I’ve gotten emails from a couple of students who like the changes and have heard casually from several others.”

Third-year student Sarah Abel said the renovated fourth floor has become her go-to place to study.

“I love the new furniture,” she said. “It allowed me to lock in for studying for the [Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination] without allowing for distractions.”

Prior to the renovation, the fourth floor “always seemed cramped and stuffy,” Abel said. “Now I’m seriously addicted to those blue chairs.”