25, No. 20, May 4, 2006
Learning Commons at Undergrad
Library to integrate services
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
Undergraduate Library is being transformed into
a learning commons, a cutting-edge facility that
comprises library, technology and other services.
David Ward, assistant undergraduate librarian
for reference services, will promote the Learning
Commons on the Housing Division’s “Startin’ Fresh” DVD
to help orient incoming freshmen living in university
housing to life on campus.
Library is getting some updates that will make it a state-of-the-art
resource called a learning commons to better meet the needs of today’s
students. The Learning Commons will provide a central point for research,
information and computing needs as well as advising and academic support.
Staff members from the library, Campus Information Technologies and
Educational Services and other units – including the Housing Division,
the Writer’s Workshop, academic advising and Career Services –are
collaborating on the project.
Learning commons integrate library and other campus services, bringing
together the social and academic spheres on a campus. Peer universities
such as Indiana University and Northwestern University have similar
endeavors but call them Information Commons.
The Internet was in its infancy when the Undergraduate Library was built.
Today’s students are not only heavy Web users, but they also often
have assignments that demand literacy in a variety of technologies and
that require active learning and collaboration.
Students often bring their laptops to the library and find that there
aren’t enough electrical outlets for everyone and that furniture
such as study carrels aren’t configured or flexible enough to
accommodate group work.
“And with classes like the ‘Writing for Video’ class
that ask students to use digital video and audio as parts of their presentations,
they need to be able to access that kind of technology, be able to search
for it and understand the information literacy concepts,” said
David Ward, assistant undergraduate librarian for reference services.
“We want the Learning Commons to be a place where students feel
free to experiment and learn new things. We’re trying to build
an infrastructure that supports creativity.”
Several assessments were conducted, including focus groups and a Web-based
survey, to find out which kinds of technologies and services people
need and would use if they were available. Nearly 3,000 people responded
to the survey and their “wish lists” included being able
to check out laptops or audiovisual equipment and having resources available
that teach them how to use new technologies.
The Undergraduate Library, which has not been renovated since
it was built in 1969, is being reconfigured, in part to make it more
inviting and more accommodating for group work. The top floor is being
arranged to accommodate collaborative work and instruction while the
lower level – which will house the print, video and video game
collections – will be geared toward quiet studying or research.
A new integrated services desk will be installed that will combine several
of the current service desks and serve as a centralized resource for
assisting patrons with questions about reference materials, technology,
student services and other matters. The desk will be staffed with people
who will be cross-trained in the various areas.
“As it is now, we often have more requests for help than we have
people available, especially in the late afternoons and evenings when
it gets extremely busy around here,” Ward said. “The instant-messaging
traffic for assistance with reference questions goes up every month.
In our peak months, we have 7,000-8,000 instant messages a month in
addition to all the telephone and walk-up traffic.”
And since people who are in the library at the time send many of the
instant messages, Ward hopes that some of the staff from the services
desk will be able to roam the library and assist patrons at their points
New technology – including new iMac computers, scanners
and loanable laptops, digital and video cameras and projectors –
will be added.
A Web page is being developed that will serve as a first-stop, online
resource for people seeking information and other services.
“Some of the services in the Undergraduate Library are provided
by the library and some by CITES, and undergraduate students don’t
care who provides it – nor should they have to – they just
want to get their work done,” said Stanley Yagi, CITES assistant
CIO for technology. “We know also that students operate
in a virtual environment, and we’re trying to figure out how to
provide services online.”
Laptop users will welcome the addition of wireless Internet access
and more electrical outlets; staff members in the Facilities and Services
Division are evaluating the capacity of the building’s electrical
system to ensure it can handle heavier loads.
The updates also will include some new furniture, reconfigurations that
will use space better and expand use of labs and conference rooms for
training purposes, such as software classes and brown-bag seminars.
Ultimately, the Learning Commons may be a precursor for similar endeavors
in other units, such as the Illini Union and the Housing Division, and
in the University Library for a Scholarly Commons that will support
The Learning Commons is being funded by a multi-year grant – in
“a generous amount,” Ward said – from the Division
of Intercollegiate Athletics.
More information and updates about the Learning Commons are available