21st Century Classroom

A Space to Collaborate

New library designs offer flexible, people-centric, tech-driven environments that reflect the increasingly synergetic nature of today's campuses.

A Space to Collaborate

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."

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