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Discovery & User Experience

This Cubicle Goes To Eleven*

Here in the newly rechristened Discovery & Research Services Department, we spend much of our day (when we’re not in meetings or helping patrons at the reference desk) working in what we affectionately call the Land of Beige. Now, we’re not complaining about our cubicles – they’re actually quite nice, and pretty spacious to boot – but as in any office environment, we sometimes encounter challenges that make it more difficult to get work done. Sometimes, it’s just too quiet up here. You start to wonder whether the outside world still exists, and before you know it, you’re wandering around the Internet trying to feel a little less isolated. And sometimes it’s noisy; sometimes our neighbors have to make phone calls, or have impromptu meetings in their cubes, or bang about with the printer trying to unjam it yet again.

group of cubicles with a man looking down at them

Cubeville is weird.

In either case, too noisy or too quiet, it can be hard to focus on work. Here in DRS, our work can take a lot of different shapes; sometimes we’re composing emails, or writing a web style guide (that’s me!), or troubleshooting an e-resource access problem, or tinkering away at some code in the process of trying to clean up a problematic web page. We all have different ways of trying to get ourselves to focus on our work. I find that, much of the time, I work best with headphones on – sometimes with music playing, sometimes not – just to muffle the distractions around me a bit. But that can be problematic too, and if you ever catch me fist-pumping and singing along with “Born to Run,” please feel free to tap me on the shoulder and remind me that other people can hear me. 🙂

So when I came across an article about the effect of ambient noise on creative work, my ears perked up (figuratively speaking). According to researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, people doing creative work performed significantly better when their environment included ambient noise at about a 70-decibel level. Very interesting! The article offers links to several websites that provide different sorts of music and ambient noise you can use to create the aural environment that works best for you. I’m especially intrigued by Coffeetivity, which provides the sounds of a moderately busy coffee shop along with the ability to control the volume of that background noise separately from the volume of your own music – replicating the “headphones in a coffee shop” experience. Pretty nifty, actually. Although now I really want a latté…

Cat with headphones around its neck, next to a computer monitor

Headphones Cat isn’t entirely certain about this.

If you work in cubeville, what is your favorite strategy for focusing? Does your strategy vary depending on the type of project you are working on? (And don’t forget to get up and walk around every so often, no matter how focused you get – your life may depend on it!)

I found the link to the ambient-noise article in OCLC‘s weekly “Above the Fold” newsletter, incidentally; they compile a few news items of interest to folks working in libraries, archives, and museums, and it’s usually interesting stuff. You can subscribe if you want.


*For anyone who might not recognize the reference in the title of this post:



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