A dormitory, or dorm, is a facility that houses beds for large numbers of people. As the Latin roots for this word imply, it is intended primarily for sleeping, and it is often attached to an institution. Dormitories are used to house prisoners, students, and members of militaries, and they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes all over the world. In some regions, there has been a shift away from the use of this term to describe facilities that are used for mixed purposes, like sleeping, studying, and recreating.
The origins of the dormitory are ancient, as people have always needed a place to sleep at night, and those in institutions have required sleeping space for large numbers of individuals. Housing people this way makes far more sense from an economic standpoint than giving people private rooms and homes, as it allows significant numbers of people to sleep in a comparatively small area. Living this way can also promote bonding, cooperation, and social skills among the residents.
Generally, a dorm sleeps any group of people larger than two, in a variety of configurations. Some have large halls which may have tens or even hundreds of beds where people all sleep together, while others are divided into smaller rooms that sleep two to six people. The space is usually quite utilitarian, with shared bathrooms and limited space, since the primary purpose is to provide sleeping quarters. Some dorms provide bedding, towels, and other supplies to their residents, while others require people to bring their own linens.
In schools, the term “residence hall” is often preferred, as it emphasizes the fact that students engage in a number of activities in their residences, not just sleeping. This is especially true of smaller colleges, where halls may house 25 to 30 students in a mixture of single and double rooms. “Residence hall” also differentiates college facilities from the more spartan institutional dormitories found at prisons and on military bases, and it is viewed as more welcoming and inviting.
Some hostels also offer dormitories so that travelers can get an especially low nightly rate, and public ones are sometimes established to provide shelter for homeless people or the victims of natural disasters. These temporary facilities are designed to ensure that people in immediate need of shelter can access it, and they may have strict rules about check in and check out times, along with regulations about the kind of activities permitted.