Beyond Classroom Construction and Design: Formulating a Vision for Learning Spaces in Libraries

By Forrest, Charles; Hinchliffe, Lisa Janicke et al. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview
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Beyond Classroom Construction and Design: Formulating a Vision for Learning Spaces in Libraries


Forrest, Charles, Hinchliffe, Lisa Janicke, Arp, Lori, Reference & User Services Quarterly


In the last decade, changes in technology have transformed the way users approach learning and use of the library. Wireless access, laptops, PDAs, and plasma displays are only a few of the developments that have had an impact on the way students conduct their work and how public spaces are used. Students also expect that they will have seamless access to a wide array of software anywhere at any time. They count on being able to access not only the library's full-text electronic resources and catalog from any location, but also word processing, spreadsheets, the Internet, video and audio streaming, HTML-editing software, e-mail and other applications.

At the same time, changes in the way that students are expected to engage in study have emerged in the academy. Collaboration and team-building have become common components of the teaching and learning process throughout the curricula. Group research projects and conferencing are the norm, and active learning techniques are common in both the ways faculty teach and how students learn from each other. Facilitation techniques are being used not just to "run a better meeting" but as part of how groups can work together in the learning environment. Students need space to meet, to talk, and to collaborate.

These two trends have had a profound effect on the way libraries manage, structure, and design learning spaces and will continue to do so in the future. As an example, Bennett surveyed 380 institutions that had renovated or built new libraries between 1992 and 2001. His results recommended that library design should "incorporate a deeper understanding of the independent, active learning behaviors of students and the teaching strategies of faculty meant to support those behaviors." (1) As more institutions take this approach, instruction librarians will be at the forefront of designing effective, future-oriented learning spaces throughout the library, not just in the classroom. What are the characteristics that should define these new spaces? And how can instruction librarians effectively advocate for new learning spaces? What partnerships can help develop this potential for making libraries more integrated educational spaces?

In this article, Charles Forrest and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe discuss the approaches that two large institutions--one private and one public; one with funding for remodeling and one without--have taken to rethink their libraries as environments that are conducive to research and learning in private and group settings. These case studies are about specific libraries and their spaces and describe different programmatic approaches to achieve their goals, but are remarkably similar in the philosophies articulated. At the end of the column, Forrest and Janicke Hinchliffe have listed their top recommended readings for review.--Editors

The Information Commons Approach at Emory University

Charles Forrest

Academic libraries are exciting places these days. There is ongoing experimentation and innovation with facilities, technologies, staffing patterns and service programs. In many libraries, the information commons is a tangible expression of this general fervor. In the last decade information commons have made a sudden, dramatic, and widespread appearance in academic and research libraries across the country and around the world. Information commons:

   emphasize the interdisciplinary character
   of information and the power of
   digital technology to manage apparently
   disparate information resources as
   one. In effect, information commons
   marry the best offerings of information
   technology staff and of librarians. Such
   spaces characteristically provide readers
   with highly capable computers offering
   a wide variety of information management
   software and access to the richest
   possible set of information resources.
   Readers are invited to explore, experiment,
   and learn information management
   skills useful to them as students
   and teachers and, indeed, as lifelong
   learners. 

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