New wireless occupancy tracker displayed in Baylor libraries

The current occupancy screen in Moody is located on the first floor in the hallway between Starbucks and the rest of Moody library. The screen shows each floor and its available seating capacity that changes as seats are taken up. Brittney Matthews | Photo Editor

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

A new monitor found on the first level of Moody Memorial Library is part of Baylor’s new use of Occuspace, a tracking device that displays capacity levels on each floor. Occuspace uses Bluetooth and Wifi signals to determine the number of people in each area.

According to their website, Occuspace works by using sensors to scan for online activity, including “laptops, cell phones, wearables, and other connected devices” without using personal information. The system then uses specific algorithms to estimate capacity levels with over 90% accuracy.

David Burns, associate vice president of library and academic technology services, said that the library worked with Information Technology Services over the summer to install Occuspace.

“As the university was preparing for fall, we realized this was a tool that could help us keep our numerous study spaces in the Moody and Jones Libraries open safely during the pandemic and provide a valuable service to students,” Burns said.

Burns said the library is working to add more “digital signage” around the building, but for right now, students can find occupancy information on the first floor monitor, downloading the “Waitz” app or visiting the website.

Dean of Libraries Jeffry Archer had used Occuspace at a different institution and sparked the idea of using it at Baylor, Burns said. From there, he said it became a part of Baylor’s COVID-19 response expenses and “was a relatively minor cost” compared to other precautions taken by the university.

“For students, live occupancy data can be helpful in deciding where to study,” Burns said. “As we have reduced the available seating because of social distancing, it can be challenging to find a spot to work. Occuspace lets you see how busy each area of the library is before you even arrive. The app also allows you to see trends in space usage, so students can see when that favorite study spot is historically less crowded.”

Fort Worth senior Avery Owens, who studies in Moody Memorial Library, said that it may help students during a difficult time to be in public.

“I think it’s a good recourse for students to be able to know how many students are on each floor,” Owens said. “It’s a safety feature — just an extra precaution that Baylor is enforcing.”

Not only does it help the students, Burns said, but it also helps the administrative staff monitor occupancy levels. One of the features of Occuspace is an alert system that can send a notification to administrators if a floor has exceeded capacity so that they can enforce social distancing.

There are now some dining halls around campus that are also making use of Occuspace. Burns said he encourages “any student who could benefit from this tool” to download the “Waitz” app to find more information on this. They plan to use Occuspace in the future as well.

“Just in the times we are living in,” Owens said, “I think it’s better to know more than to know less. We need as much information as possible so you are able to know exactly how many people are on each floor and you can use that to decide whether or not you want to study on that floor.”