Monday, March 9, 2009

Anything But Common: Learning Commons and Academic Libraries




The following is a guest blog post from Adam Murray, Interim Dean of University Libraries.

A study conducted recently at Simmons College found that 45-55% of student learning activities taking place outside of the classroom took place in the library’s collaborative work spaces. Collaborative work space – as well as work space designed specifically for individuals – is a core component of the planning for a “learning commons” and new library facility at Murray State University. But what does the term “learning commons” really mean? One of the great things about envisioning a learning commons for Murray State University is that we can define it for ourselves, modifying what has already been successful elsewhere for the specific needs of Murray State students, faculty and staff. What we do know is that a learning commons should be a gathering place where students feel comfortable accessing and using information, and doing so on their terms as individuals or as members of a group.

The video above highlights interviews of students and librarians at North Carolina State University, which recently developed a learning commons in their main library building. A quote from the video indicated that the planning for the NCSU learning commons was “responding to what students were asking for already in the library.” The space in the NCSU library before the renovation was very reminiscent of the current Waterfield Library – lots of computers in rows and not much space for group work. Students indicated that they really appreciate locations where they can interact loudly without disturbing others while having access to “lots of computer desks where students can gather around in groups.” This quote helps put another nail in the coffin of the notion that using the library and using a computer are not synonymous.

Student representatives on the task force currently planning a new library for Murray State have proven to be some of the most committed members, frequently bringing forward exciting and intriguing ideas about how a future library will operate. Some of the considerations for a learning commons include a Written & Oral Communications Center, housing the Honors Program, and a focus on internationalization throughout the facility. Far from being just another student center, this early vision of the new library and learning commons really puts the library where it should be – at the academic heart of the university.

What do you think about the prospect of a new library for Murray State that includes a learning commons? Why? What features, functions or services should a learning commons possess? What innovations would the existence of a learning commons spark in your own teaching methods? Please click COMMENTS and give us your thoughts.

1 comment:

T. Derting said...

I think it is a great idea and in-synch with what we know about the positive outcomes of collaborative work. I may be old-fashioned, but I think students thrive on face-to-face interactions when learning; however, few academic buildings are conducive to such interactions. I applaud MSU for working towards commons within Waterfield Library. I don't believe that the presence of library commons would change my teaching, but I would certainly encourage students to meet there to work on their group projects.