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What Is a Common Room?

The famous Boston Common in Massachusetts is now a public park.
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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2014
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A common room is a shared space in a facility where many people live. While residents might have individual sleeping and living quarters in such facilities, these may not include areas for recreation or socializing owing to limited space. A shared space allows residents to gather at their leisure and often includes amenities such as a television, a small library, and couches and chairs. Facilities with common rooms include college dormitories, hostels, and medical institutions. The phrase is also used to describe student organizations at some universities.

In English, the word common has been used for hundreds of years to denote a shared space. For example, many British villages had town commons, central areas, or parks that were open for use by any local residents. Although no longer as widespread as they once were, some still remain in the 21st century. The famous Boston Common in Massachusetts is one example, now a public park. A common room follows a similar concept, being open to use for all residents of a facility and sometimes to invited guests as well.

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A college dorm is a good example of a facility with a common room. Dorm rooms themselves are generally small and austere, with basic amenities but no space for relaxation or socializing. Some dormitories may also have restrictions against outside guests in individual rooms. Students can gather in common rooms to watch TV, socialize, or even study. Some shared spaces will include bathrooms and kitchen areas, allowing students alternatives to remaining cloistered in their rooms.

Hostels, simple facilities for travelers, are often set up in a dormitory structure that includes a common room. Hotels sometimes have similar areas in or near their lobbies, although amenities are often limited, and the areas may not be identified as common rooms. Hospitals, military barracks, and even prisons may also have common rooms; in these cases, the residents are often not allowed to leave the building, and the common room may be their only alternative to a cramped living space. These areas are sometimes called by other names, such as day rooms or meeting rooms.

In English universities as well as a few in America, Canada, and Australia, the common room is a name for a student organization. Such groups maintain aspects of day-to-day student life that do not fall under the educational curriculum. They are often divided into junior, middle, and senior common rooms, although these do not always correspond to the academic levels by those names. These organizations were named after the common rooms where they originally met, and the names remained even after the groups had expanded beyond the scope of those first meeting areas.

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