Balancing the needs of students in the community college library space

As I write this, I’m sitting at the main service desk in my library. I can see all of the computers in the library from my viewpoint. We’re a small library on a small campus – but each of my 22 computers is in use.

Here’s what the students I can see are doing. There are students working in pairs, talking and discussing what they’re doing. There are students working independently on their classwork. There is a small group of students having a great time at the computers in the corner.

With all of this comes noise. Lots of noise.

In the rear of the library we have study carrels and tables. Many students are currently using these – they are attempting to use the library as a reprieve from the chaos elsewhere on campus and at their homes – yet I wonder how it’s working for them. Do they notice the noise? Is it bothersome?

How can we balance the needs of these varying groups of students in our very small libraries? We have no funding (or space) to build additional study rooms – we already have a small conference room (with no computers) and a very tiny “quiet” study room (that’s adjacent to my very noisy library instruction classroom).

It’s exciting to see so much activity in the library – but as a person that needs quiet to study, I cannot see how many of the students in the back are managing to get their work done.

How do you manage the different needs of different students in your library?



I spent the last two years working on a huge project: transitioning from a library to a learning commons. Oh, the library is still here, albeit with fewer books—quite a bit fewer, in fact. We are down to about a third of what we had when I came here three years ago.

I’ll leave the actual “how” of this accomplishment for a later post. Today I’d like to talk about the transition itself, and how the students reacted to the change.

Of course construction took longer than planned. Originally we were slated to move in after finals in December. That didn’t happen. We remained in the small, cramped student game room across from the cafeteria. Fortunately we were able to move the books and get them on the shelves in the new space before we left for Christmas break. Furniture—some of it—was delivered the first week of January. None of the office furniture was ready, and we were given “loaners.”

But, the circulation desk was here, and all of the student furniture, and we were able to open when second semester began. We utilized part of the old library; the Student Success Center moved in to part of the old library, and we added on a section for offices and the Commons area.

One of my criteria when we renovated was that we needed color! Previously, the walls were beige, the shelving putty gray, and the carpet gray. The furniture had some color, but not enough to make much of a difference. The prison library I’d worked in was more colorful!

Another criterion was comfortable, moveable furniture. The former stuff was heavy, with wooden arms on the chairs. It was difficult to drag the stuff across the room to do any kind of group work, although the students did do it. Inevitably, staff got to move it back, which wasn’t fun.

Both of those criteria were fulfilled.

What was it about the Learning Commons idea that seemed so intriguing? Again, it came down to the students.

One of the concepts of the Learning Commons is to provide student learning services under one umbrella; instead of having tutoring services and the library in separate buildings, we felt it would be more beneficial for students to have both services co-located.

Another concept is that the Learning Commons is more patron-centered than the traditional library. Our vision is a transformed space which blends the library’s traditional role as a place of books and contemplation with its emerging role as a place for learning and collaboration. One important concept about a Learning Commons is that the space is transitional and will change as user needs dictate.

Our learning commons has been designed with the above definition in mind. Some of the features of the Learning Commons are: spaces for collaboration and spaces for individual study; study rooms; personnel to help with research; a faculty center; more focus on Science, Technology, and Math; access to databases; video editing rooms; hard-wired computers as well as laptops and iPads; IT staff to trouble-shoot computer issues; a reading terrace; variety of seating options; a coffee shop featuring Starbucks products; and last but not least, books, magazines, newspapers, and DVDs!

The biggest difference in the new space is that we want it to offer more ownership to the users; in other words, a space that belongs to everyone. We want the Commons to be a place that will be inviting to all. Abilene Christian University, when it was contemplating changing to a Learning Commons concept, expressed these ideas, which we embrace:

 “We envision a place that draws students in, encouraging them to work not only individually but also in groups; we must provide an abundance of printed and digital resources; we must bring together expertise in interpreting information, solving technological problems, and writing and preparing assignments; and we must facilitate intellectual and social dialogue.”

Another big difference is that, because of the change in focus, we do not expect the Commons to be nearly as quiet as a “traditional” library, although we do provide quiet areas for those students who prefer to study in a more peaceful environment. The noisiness lessens as the patrons move farther and farther away from the coffee shop, which is located near the north end of the library.

Now, for the most important question: how do the students like the change? They were in awe as they walked into the new space; they couldn’t believe how open it was; they loved the different types of seating options: comfortable lounge chairs, bar-type tables, square tables that could be moved together; bistro tables in the coffee bar area; and even study carrels. I saw all of the possibilities being utilized, which was thrilling!

A survey at the end of the semester revealed that most of the students loved the new Commons. We had a couple of people say that it was too noisy, but for the most part, it was extremely well-received.

I can say I’m proud of what we accomplished. The looks on the students’ faces, and watching as they make the space their own, give me great satisfaction. It’s theirs, not mine, and that’s how it should be.

What Is a Great Two-Year Library?

Back in March, when this community was forming, I was in the middle of reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Among other things, the story involves a butler reflecting on his career.  The story captures the familiar experience of how seemingly trivial, everyday working tasks can seem significant and meaningful to those performing them.  Ishiguro manages to avoid belittling his characters while capturing the importance that many working people attach to their duties.  As he contemplates his years of service, the narrator repeatedly returns to the question of what makes a great butler.

And so correspondingly I began to wonder, what is a great two-year library?  What does it look like?  Here are three of my own ideas, and I’m curious about what others think:

1. A great two-year library is one where students who leave the college appreciate and understand the value of an academic library.

2. A great two-year library is one where materials and services are used heavily, staff are happy and busy, and there is a lot going on in terms of events, exhibits and displays.  The atmosphere of discovery is vibrant.

3. A great two-year library is one that is fully integrated into the academic life of the institution.  It is not seen as merely a requirement for accreditation or to make the college look legitimate, but as important and valuable.

Near the conclusion of The Remains of the Day, the narrator admits that the reason he was ultimately not a great butler was because the master he served was not a great man.  I don’t know whether a great two-year library can exist independently at a college that is not equally great, but I’d like to think it can.

Do any of us work in a truly great two-year library? If not, what are we doing to make it so?

Hot Topics Winter ’09–Information Literacy

Information Literacy

Read CJCLS list.

 What level of info. literacy?  Palo Alto has: Information Resources Certificate, 7 classes, free Continuing Ed. Credit, introduction to Library, Databases, MLA, APA, Web search, Info. evaluation.  Instructors can schedule a BI class, also available online (students take a quiz).  No quiz in face-to-face.  Palo Alto enrollment 8,000.  Faculty offer extra credit for certificate completion.  Some discussion of problem of babysitting for absent faculty.  Palo Alto requires professor presence.  They offer desktop instruction for faculty, face-to-face, one-on-one with librarian.

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