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ALA 2015 Info Commons Roundtable Notes


ACRL Information Commons Discussion Group

Meeting Notes - Saturday, June 28, 2015


The Learning Commons Now: Sustaining Innovation


Now that the learning commons (or information commons) model has become commonplace, how can librarians working in these environments sustain their position at the leading edge? Maintaining the learning commons as a site of innovation is an important way to keep libraries at the center of campus academic and social life. Join us for a discussion focused on sharing ideas and successes to explore creative and practical ways to start, maintain, and renew your commons.


Discussion Co-Conveners

Carolyn Cunningham            Michael Whitchurch             Caroline Barratt

University of Texas, Austin    Brigham Young University    University of Georgia




Welcome and Introduction

Carolyn, Michael, and Caroline welcomed the group and introduced themselves. Caroline briefed the group on the meeting format and began with Question 1 in small groups. After 10 minutes, the discussions were reported on and questions and elaborations occurred within the large group with Caroline and Carolyn facilitating discussion. We covered our agenda within the meeting period to discuss and report on three questions. These minutes encapsulate those discussions.


Question 1 - What top three innovations are you making (or planning) for your learning commons?


Many are renovating their library space to create more room for students to study, both individually and in groups. Moving large sets of bound serials to offsite storage is one way people are opening up space. Making the most of natural light and adding new furniture are ways to spruce up existing spaces. Consolidating service desks is another method. This move to connect patrons with different services and departments at one location extends to partners outside the library. Others are inviting allied groups like tutoring and advising to share their library space. One library shared their experience of making connections with co-located campus offices in the library space by offering librarian expertise via workshops in the Center for Faculty Excellence (e.g. on best practices for addressing plagiarism and how to best serve distance learners). One institution is using a consulting company, Brightspot Strategies, to help them understand patron needs and develop a plan for new service and uses of the space. Regarding desk consolidation, a suggested strategy is to ask for volunteers when downsizing and reorganizing the front line staff to ensure those in a public facing role want to be there. Some may want to pursue other support roles or activities and this method allows you to make the most of people’s strengths and interests to an opportunity rather than a scary feeling of losing one’s place. At many ICs, subject specialist librarians are no longer staffing the reference desk; the many directional and ready reference questions are instead answered by students and paraprofessionals.


The addition of multimedia hardware and software is being implemented or considered by some institutions, including support for these tools from library IT staff. A few other innovations are the addition of 3-D printing, furniture upgrades, self checkout systems, screen sharing and projectors for groups, and reservation systems to hold study space for groups (Dibs was one software used for this purpose). A discussion about a balance of creative space and study space revealed many of us are working out space allocations for different uses and relying on feedback and observation to make changes.


Question 2 - How are you assessing the learning commons’ impact on teaching and learning?


All of us are counting lots of things! Gate count, patron interactions at service desks, study room reservations, traditional comment cards, computer logins and tallies of software used, circulation statistics (of library materials and equipment) are all still assessment stalwarts. Anthropological observation is another method, with some institutions noting what students are doing at particular times of the day/week and where those activities occur. These observations then lead to reorganizing space to support those activities. One institution shared an experience of informally soliciting feedback via video interviews to uncover what activities students were undertaking in commons spaces. Writing questions on whiteboards in the IC is a fun and easy way to get feedback from students. Ask a question like, “How are our new 24 hours helping you?” and watch the white boards fill up with comments and inventive hashtags. Social media can also serve as an assessment tool with contests, queries, and promotion of surveys. Students can share information about how they are using the IC services and space, what they like most, and what suggestions they have for improvement. One IC had a “Shelfie” contest where students posted a picture of themselves to Twitter/Instagram with their favorite book in the stacks. Assessment and promotion can be intertwined on social media, likewise, organizing events that draw on student and local talent can lead to fun collaborations like Yale’s flash mob.


A discussion about card swipe counters revealed that libraries have a variety of experiences with this assessment technique. In one IC, students swiped their cards during interactions with writing center staff, but not with library staff. The librarian reported that their campus has a culture of swiping for many student services, so it didn’t seem to bother students. Others predicted that students might be shy or questioning of swiping for library service since we take precautions to protect their privacy in other ways. In addition, some ICs use card swipe to allow certain populations access to IC spaces, such as grad student-only study space. In one instance, funding for the space was tied to the card swipe data to show the popularity of dedicated space.


Question 3 - What methods have you found to fund new initiatives and/or what no-cost or low-cost programs are you trying?


Gallery space and exhibition space for student work can be a low-cost program that directly ties student learning to IC spaces. One institution reported creating their own low-cost DIY display systems including hanging systems for artwork and posters, and easels and pedestals for artwork. Readymag.com was mentioned as a way to capture work in digital formats.


Coffee and tea for grad students was a simple and effective way to invite a specific population into commons space at one institution. Most ICs are doing finals study breaks. Ideas include: food (always popular), therapy dogs, bean bag chairs, collaborating with the campus Health Center to provide give-aways and healthy snacks, free massage from the local massage schools (students need to log hours for certification), puzzle tables, yoga, root beer floats, make your own READ posters, photos with the school mascot (bingo, coloring books and more.


Ideas for raising money to fund these kinds of events include: ask student government (they are generally well-funded and student-centered events like these fits with their goals), have a book sale, selling Christmas/holiday cards (maybe using some images from the library’s collection).


Wrap-up with general questions and discussion

In closing, we returned to a discussion of graduate student services and the creation of faculty/grad student “scholars’ commons” within the IC. This group, in particular, values silent (not just quiet!) study space and lockers.The idea of a Digital Scholarship Commons was also discussed. See the Coalition of Networked Information (CNI) documents at http://www.cni.org/events/cni-workshops/digital-scholarship-centers-cni-workshop/.