Beyond the Commons #acrl2017

Increasing emphasis on learning commons in academic libraries. Study rooms offered in most libraries. (Asks for show of hands for libraries with study rooms. Most of the room raises their hands.)

Some different approaches to collaborative study spaces in academic libraries.

Duke University: have been mulling the idea of learning commons or research commons. Moved forward with the project in 2014; opened in 2015.  The Rupert Commons for Research, Technology & Collaboration. Is on the first floor of one of the campus libraries. Have an open lab area and two computer labs. Have a workshop room where they give workshops. Have spaces for project teams. All teams have access to staff working in the difference areas of research. Crucial – need collaboration of all parts of campus.

Virginia Tech: Launched the Fusion Studio in 2016. Have a variety of areas with white boards,  seating, etc. Have carts with creative supplies.

Georgia Tech: very skewed towards engineering. Had a very underutilized commons that was redesigned. Wanted a space that would exist outside specific programs, so all students and programs could use. Rapid prototyping and ideation focus.

Campus dynamics?

VT: Interdisciplinary problem-based learning. Kept being asked, “Can we leave our stuff here?” Needed a more studio-like environment. Longer-term, complicated projects that needed a home.

Duke: people would take ownership of spaces, so needed to set aside space. Scholarship is changing, and so library needed to change to be a part of it. Beneficial for these project to be part of the library.

GT: Provost identified a conceptual innovation corridor on campus. The library would add space where non-engineering students would feel comfortable interacting with their engineering counterparts. (There are labs on campus that are more engineering-centric.)

Defining access?

Duke: in a high-visibility area. Set up access to the rooms on a reservation basis, though if a room isn’t reserved it is available by application. Need to have project team already assembled. Try to have the application be like a reference interview. Started with an idea of what projects they would see, but found that they were attracting projects they didn’t expect.

GT: 1000 square feet with no doors. Open to anybody. Most of the time, is a stripped-down studio space. Rather a messy space. Access is not restricted at all. Access to the programming of the space was complicated. Control administratively needed a MOU.

VT: Non-visible location, so people don’t tend to wander in. Need to fill out a form of interest. Try to get a sense of the scope of the project. Finding more hackathon-type projects.


Duke: Started with a coordinator and a service desk staffed by students during library hours. Have needed to bring in librarians and library staff to help with the projects. Have had to be cohesive in supporting the teams.

VT: Have a manager with a student development background. Brings a different vantage-point to the team. Brings in different expertise from the campus as needed to assist the teams.

GT: Didn’t add staff, as was contracting the space. However, they determined they needed staff to help manage the space. The department person whose job was to run the space didn’t report to the library, so there were challenges. (“As always, MOU.”)

What does the future hold?

VT: Have a lot of students who would like to do their work on evenings and weekends. Are there different audiences that would use the space during the day? May offer a stipend for teams willing to work on wicked problems.

Duke: Have been focusing on library interaction with students and how they use the space. Have been trying to have the teams identify with a librarian and how they can help the team, whether it’s project management or research. Working on programming with the project teams.

GT: Have seen that students who are starting large-scale projects need space and support at the very beginning of the process. Will be establishing another space in a campus library (currently under construction) that is not a partnership with another entity.


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