Tag Archives: funding

Focus on Flexibility

This semester the information literacy course that I’m teaching started off in our main library classroom. It’s a fairly typical instructional space with rows of desks topped with computers, an instructor computer at the front, and a couple of projection screens. It’s a nice room – we got 30 new, faster student computers over the summer, internet connectivity is solid, and we have some nifty classroom management software that allows us to push out content to the student machines as well as project content from student machines onto the big screen.

About midway through the semester my class moved into a new workshop space in the library. This room is smaller – we can only fit about 16 students – and has an instructor computer, a lockable laptop cart, and a smartboard on one wall. I absolutely adore this room! Instead of long, hardwired rows of desks we have round tables that seat 4 students each, which makes group work so much easier. The space is so flexible – we can use the computers when we need them, but when we don’t they can be tucked away in the cart (rather than tempting students with Facebook). I do miss the classroom management software, and sometimes the wifi is a bit dodgy, but this room is about as close to my ideal instructional setting as I’ve ever had.

This midsemester venue change has me thinking about flexibility: of design, of space, of our library facilities. Like many colleges our enrollment is up and we definitely feel it in the library. Sometimes it seems like we are bursting at the seams, especially as finals week looms ever closer. How can we get the most out of the space we have?

Studying is another library use that could benefit from greater flexibility of our physical space. Students work in many different ways: in a group, individually, quietly, and in discussion. When the library gets busy our group study rooms fill up, and other groups studying in the library disturb students who want quiet, individual study space. We do have designated quiet and conversation areas, but it’s easy for a group working together to get too loud for an open area. What if we could use partitions to design flexible, pop-up group study rooms? Would that be a way to maximize our space for multiple uses? What if we left them open rather than requiring groups to check out a key? Would single students monopolize a group room for long periods of time?

What stands in the way of flexibility? I think funds play a big part. For example, during the busy parts of the semester our classroom is booked solid with classes and workshops, but at other times it’s empty. I often hear students complain that there aren’t enough computers available for their use at the college. Why can’t we use the classroom as a student computer lab when there aren’t any classes? In this case I can answer my own question: that room isn’t staffed when there are no classes in session, and we would need to add staff to open the room for drop-in use by students. I can also envision logistical headaches in the mixed classroom-lab scenario, for example, having to shoo out the students using computers when a class is about to come into the room.

Even small renovations to spaces that already exist require funding, which can be hard to come by these days. However, in this economic climate it’s probably unlikely that many of us will see expanded or new library buildings, especially in space-starved urban areas. Advocating for funds for flexibility might be in all of our futures, to help us get the most out of the space we have. Is your library moving toward more flexible use of space and facilities?

Accountability and Open Access

Hey, have you heard there’s a recession on? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.) It’s nearly impossible to avoid news from all sectors–including higher education–about the continued economic challenges facing the country. Stories about funding difficulties for both public and private institutions, rising tuition, and declining endowments fill news outlets daily. And of course academic libraries (like libraries of all types) are feeling the budget pinch, too.

Often we focus on the economics of our libraries (i.e., fallout from the serials crisis) when we discuss open access publishing with other faculty and administrators at our institutions. Last week in the class I’m teaching my students and I discussed scholarly communication. I’m a strong supporter of open access publishing, and it was great to have the opportunity to see these issues through the eyes of my students. They were genuinely surprised to find that the results of scholarly research are often so difficult to access for those outside of academe.

After my class discussion I was particularly struck by one aspect of the economics of open access: accountability. It’s likely that as the effects of the recession continue to be felt over the next few years, the calls for accountability in higher education budgets will grow more insistent. Open access advocates can use this situation to highlight the advantages of OA scholarly journals. Broad access to and wide dissemination of the research and scholarship happening at colleges and universities can provide visible proof of the relevance of higher education.

Increased access to research can also bring positive publicity to our institutions. The importance of research is growing even at institutions that have traditionally focused on teaching, and recruiting and retaining talented faculty is crucial. Widespread good publicity can also help attract students, and especially highlighting increasing opportunities for student research. Many institutions run ads in the local media promoting their scholars and programs. Wouldn’t it be great if prospective students could easily find and read about some of the research going on in those programs?

While it’s hard to say whether discussions of accountability will, in and of themselves, win the open access movement many new converts, I think accountability is a valuable addition to the growing list of arguments in favor of open access publishing.