21st Century Classroom
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A Space to Collaborate
New library designs offer flexible, people-centric, tech-driven environments
that reflect the increasingly synergetic nature of today's campuses.
SCHEDULED TO OPEN in fall 2010, the University of Calgary's Taylor Family Digital Library is touted
as the most technologically advanced student library in Canada.
IF YOU COULD REBUILD your campus library from the
ground up, how would it be different? Would the impact of
digital technology significantly alter the features and design?
For many university administrators and library executives,
these questions are purely hypothetical, offering them a
chance to sketch out new commons areas or draw up a features
wish list. But others, who are in the midst of library
building projects or who have recently completed them,
have had to reconsider the role of a library on a 21st century
campus as they design buildings they hope will still be
relevant decades from now.
Tom Hickerson, for instance, who is head librarian at the
University of Calgary (AB), admits he thought a great
deal about what the term "digital library" meant in the name
Taylor Family Digital Library, the 265,000-square-foot
building scheduled to open in fall 2010 and touted as the
most technologically advanced student library in Canada.
"I think our profession has treated information retrieval in
traditional ways, even though it was becoming based on a
digital network," he says.
"But now we are in a transition
where the digital technology is changing the nature of the
student and faculty experience. The media being used
allow us to convey information of drastically different
forms." As an example, Hickerson points to telecommunications
advances that allow students to view research
experiments conducted elsewhere in real time, and astrophysicists
in Calgary who can broadcast the Northern
Lights to other researchers around the globe.
But it's more than the form of information that's changed
so much; it's also what students do with information that's
so different from the past. Hickerson notes: "We
already have a successful information commons in
our old library. It has a beautiful design and is full on
Friday at 5 pm, but it has been designed around
information discovery." The new library's design will
shift the focus to knowledge creation, he says; to
how information can be shaped and redistributed.
Believing that knowledge creation is at heart a collaborative
process, Hickerson set about to ensure
that Calgary's library will have many more collaborative
work spaces for students. The library's new technologies
will further empower collaboration and
knowledge creation with presentation practice
rooms using diverse media, and audio and video editing
suites. Several work spaces will feature digital
touch tables so students can move digital objects on
a vertical or horizontal plane, and digital globes that
use the touch table capability in a geographic frame.
In keeping with the synergetic spirit of the new
building, the library staff is working on a new organizational
model. First, cultural resources such as the
university museum will be located inside the library.
Second, librarians will be less tied to an organizational
chart and will instead reach out to faculty and
students in a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach. "We need to be where the action is," Hickerson
says, "and that is the intersection of interdisciplinary hubs."
Do We Really Still Need Library Buildings??
STEVEN BELL SPENDS A LOT OF TIME thinking about the library of
the future. Besides being associate university librarian for research
and instructional services at Temple University in Philadelphia, he
also writes regularly about library design concepts at the Designing
Better Libraries blog site.
Bell says some administrators may ask, "Do we really still need a
library building? Isn't everything online?" Some may even suggest
that the library should evolve into a study center managed by the
facilities group, and librarians could focus their efforts on data mining,
collections, and other technology-related efforts.
Perhaps to counter these questions about their relevancy, some
libraries are moving toward co-location, Bell says. The building is
more than just the library; it also houses an international student
center, a tutoring center, or the campus writing center. "The library can
become part of a one-stop learning center, and not just perceived as
a warehouse for books," he says. "It becomes a center where a variety
of learning opportunities can take place."
If Bell could redesign Temple's library from scratch, he would want
to do a much better job of connecting people. "The most important
thing to focus on is how to arrange the space and technology so that
individuals are funneled to people who can help them," he explains.
"You might move to the idea of greeters at the entrance asking people
if they need help finding anything, and you should have librarians'
offices out in the open rather than buried throughout the building."
Another possibility is the use of wireless walkie-talkie systems. Bell
says Ohio State University has begun experimenting with systems
from Vocera Communications, so that staff members can walk around
the library asking what kind of assistance people need, then contact
reference librarians with the Vocera device and send students to them.
Concerning the mix of print and electronic material, Bell says the
curriculum should drive design decisions. Science- and business-oriented
schools are now heavily electronic, but schools in art, design,
and theater still depend heavily on printed materials. "The design
thinking has to focus on how the community uses the material and let
that influence the design," he adds, "rather than the other way around."
A New Service Model
Interdisciplinary, collaborative work space is also a central
focus of North Carolina State University's design for its
new James B. Hunt Jr. Library, scheduled to open in 2010.
But this focus did not initially occur by design.
Susan Nutter, vice provost and director of libraries, recalls
the lesson she learned three years ago when the learning
commons in the current library was being redesigned. "We
had a four-month delay in construction, so we just threw out
bean bag chairs and let the students set up their own space,"
she relates. Seeing how students established collaborative
work areas made designers go back to the drawing board to
add more of them to the Hunt library design.
"Students were always involved in the idea process, but
this really turned that over to them," Nutter says. "We are trying
to create a space they love to be in." The trick, she says,
is to try to please graduate students and faculty members,
whose needs can be very different from those of undergrads.
Like at Calgary, administrators will be given the chance
to try out a new collaborative service model. The previous
library had one-third of the space allocated for back-of- house
operations. The new design integrates library staff
into new collaboration spaces and frees up space for
reconfiguration, Nutter says.
Balancing print and electronic resources has also been
a significant part of the design equation. "Many of our students
and faculty have made clear they want journals and
monographs in electronic form," explains Nutter. "We
decided not to have more than 50,000 volumes in print in
open stacks, and instead have moved 2 million volumes
into an automated retrieval system [ARS] that [retrieves
those texts] in 10 minutes at the click of a button."
The ARS for the 205,000-square-foot Hunt Library also
has led library staff to work on ways that users can "virtually
browse" the entire collection. "The challenge is to present
users something like the cover flow on an iPod, so that
they can flip through the collection visually, see covers,
and then dive into content and search reviews," says Kristin
Antelman, associate director for the digital library.
After doing focus groups, administrators realized that
students and faculty wanted the latest in technology available
to anyone on campus, not just to certain specialists.
For instance, they would like 3D visualization technology
available to people outside the College of Engineering.
In response to this need, the library will feature a 2,000-
square-foot space called the "creativity zone," with movable
partition walls which also serve as projection walls. Another
planned space is a teaching and visualization lab that
includes interactive MultiTouch technology for data visualization
as used on cable news network CNN. "We have
been able to carve out these spaces that are friendly for
other users to try high-end things like 3D visualization and
device lending," Antelman says.
As important as it is, in the end it's not technology that's
driving the design process. "Faculty and students are the
center of gravity for us," Nutter adds. "Some schools don't
fully take that to heart in the design process."
Putting Clients First
Ron Danielson knows firsthand whereof Nutter speaks. When
the original Orradre Library building at Santa Clara University (CA) was built in 1964, he says, it was designed with the
collection in mind; the people using it were an afterthought.
Danielson, who as CIO oversees the California university's
library and instructional technology as well as information
technology, says the new library, completed in 2008,
turns that notion on its head. "The building is designed to be welcoming to clients," Danielson says, "encouraging them
to stay there and work within a variety of learning environments,
some boisterous, and others quiet reading rooms."
Like at Calgary and NC State, Santa Clara realized that
putting people's needs first on a 21st century campus meant
creating a library that promotes collaboration. Working in the
library used to be a solitary pursuit, but faculty now regularly
expect students to work together on projects, and to work
with faculty, Danielson says. To support such efforts, there are
25 collaborative study rooms configured for six to eight people
in the building, a 194,000-square-foot complex which
houses the old Orradre library along with the new Harrington
Learning Commons and the Sobrato Technology Center.
These rooms are highly tech-enabled. Besides LCD projectors
and floor-to-ceiling whiteboards for note-taking, each
room has infrastructure to allow students to do video recording. "We believe student-generated video will be an increasingly
important part of the learning environment," Danielson
says, "so each collaboration room allows them to record
themselves and other students and to practice presentations."
Three of the collaboration areas are being called "educational
experimentation" rooms. Faculty will apply under a
competitive process to try out new learning environments
and tools that may be difficult to use elsewhere on campus
due to space constraints.
Danielson says his key words in the design process of
the new library were flexibility and adaptability. He sought
to ensure that spaces within the complex were not locked
down for a single purpose. For example, the areas used for
training and IT literacy can become drop-in labs when no
classes are scheduled. Students can easily rearrange the
furniture setups to suit their needs.
The flexibility of the design extends to logistical considerations.
Two-thirds of the library's print holdings are now stored
in an ARS to save space. The top three floors have 14-inch
raised floors for heating, ventilation, and data cabling, which
will make future remodeling projects less expensive, he says.
This kind of flexibility reflects a commitment to being
open to whatever the future may bring, which Danielson
says is an absolute necessity for today's campus library. "We haven't the faintest idea what the mix of library materials
is going to be in 10 years," he says, not to mention how
learning itself will continue to evolve. "So our building
design tried to reflect that uncertainty."
David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.