Redesigning a Library Space for Collaborative Learning

Article excerpt

The reference desk at Indiana State University's (ISU) library offers an excellent view of student work areas on the first floor. From this vantage point, the reference librarians noticed students, especially in the evening and on weekends, huddled together in small groups, with one student at the keyboard of a laptop or desktop computer. The others were standing, kneeling, or sitting nearby, straining to look over the first student's shoulders to catch a glimpse of the monitor. After watching this scene play out repeatedly, we decided to survey the campus to see what kinds of space and equipment were available for students to work on collaborative projects. We found that there were no such facilities.

We asked ourselves, "How can libraries provide support that makes effective collaborative learning possible?" Writer Jeff Morris led a virtual round-table discussion that addressed this topic. (1) It featured two librarians and two architects. He commented, "It's not easy to facilitate collaboration in environments that historically encourage the hush, not the exuberance of information sharing." We recognized that collaborative learning is noisier than noncollaborative learning. We would have to address this issue when we proposed a new collaborative learning model to the ISU library administration.

During the same round table, architect Mark Maves had emphasized the need for libraries to play a key role in research and learning. "Otherwise," he said, "administrators may look at it simply as a place to store books." Maves believes that libraries must embrace change and facilitate collaborative learning. He said: "Work areas have had to increase in size simply because of all the different media being used: print, laptop, screen. What hasn't really happened yet is using diverse media in a collaborative way, shared by four to six people."

The problems defined in the preceding paragraphs are of increasing concern for librarians. We need to emphasize the idea of the library as a collaborative learning space. Some solutions include information commons (such as the new commons at Indiana University), digital library centers, and information arcades. Architect Geoffrey Freeman said, "The library is the only centralized location where new and emerging information technologies can be combined with traditional knowledge resources in a user-focused, service-rich environment that supports today's social and educational patterns of learning, teaching, and research." (2) However, libraries traditionally have not provided either space for or an atmosphere conducive to collaborative activities. The ISU reference librarians proposed that the library administration create a team to answer our question, "How can libraries provide support that makes effective collaborative learning possible?"

The Initial Project Plan

Indiana State University is a medium-sized comprehensive school with about 9,000 students. The library provides a wireless environment with more than 70 public PCs on five floors. In addition, there's a library instruction classroom that has 30 PCs and is open to students when not being used by classes. Students use the library heavily, especially as a place to study and work both individually and in groups.

In fall 2002, the administration created a team of three librarians and two staff members that had the charge of developing and evaluating collaborative workstation prototypes for the ISU library. I, Ralph Gabbard, was appointed the project manager and was joined by librarians David Kaunelis and Judy Tribble and staff members Dara Middleton and Chris Hayes. (Anthony Kaiser joined the team during the maintenance and implementation phase in fall 2003.) We knew that ISU didn't have the resources for collaborative learning spaces that would require extensive construction. Instead, we chose to explore models for low-cost collaborative workstations. We had the initial goal of providing four student workstations in the library. …