Tag Archives: space use

My Space, Your Space, Our Space, New Space?

For this week’s post, I had the unique opportunity to review a recently published white paper by Brian Mathews, associate dean at Virginia Tech Libraries and Jenizza Badua, interior design student at Virginia Tech entitled, Curating the Campus, Curating Change.  This fascinating conceptual piece is based on a mixture of ideas, conversations, and some actual realities relating to physical learning spaces across college campuses.

Mathews’ responsibilities for facilities, space planning, and management, combined with a background in user experience, naturally inform his research in this area.  While writing his book Encoding Space (also recently published), Mathews explores “the philosophy and texture of physical spaces and what they enable and inspire people to do”.  Curating the Campus developed out of this research by taking those same concepts beyond the library.

“So when you apply things like design thinking and look at the campus as a system, you start to notice areas that could be improved. We have been so focused on improving our libraries, but these skills and insights we’ve been developing could apply elsewhere.”

The paper challenges readers to build their own new ideas on classroom buildings, research buildings, labs, studios, exhibits & displays, atriums & lobbies, living learning community, and incubators from the 8 vignettes offered. Below are some of the questions the piece brought to my mind that I posed to Mathews.

 

ACRLog: I recognized examples of these ideas occurring in reimagined spaces within the library, can you talk more about how you see this model differently?

Mathews: I think the Hunt Library Teaching and Visualization Lab at North Carolina State (NC State) gets to the point. They have established their expertise in this area.  But, should they not just be contained within Hunt or Hill Libraries, they could extend service delivery — sort of in a franchise model.  For example, maybe the focus is more on data visualization for the social sciences. Working with that College they develop a space and some adaptive service models. Then staff together go in with a designer and informaticist to support teaching and research for this discipline.  I think a “phase one” would be looking at current spaces around campus to see how they could be improved. And the next level is service design and partnerships. When I visit buildings around campus I enter thinking “how could the library enhance what’s happening here.” That doesn’t mean setting up a reference desk. In the paper I tried to outline a few of the possibilities.

 

ACRLog: Where else can we see this is currently happening in academic institutions?

Mathews: Each campus has its own politics and geography. What works at one university might not work in another. So the point of the paper was to express a general ethos with the hope of sparking conversations. I tried to imagine the next five to ten years in the profession and it seems we will reach a point where we burst from beyond our buildings and start applying these ideas and principles in other locations.  I think the Active Learning Center at Purdue provides somewhat of an example: a shared building between libraries and registrar. At Virginia Tech we are working on this concept within a new classroom building. I’m also a co-chair of a campus-wide task force looking at renovating lobby areas of academic buildings and developing a better mix of quiet and collaborative areas.  But the paper isn’t really about spaces, it’s about partnerships. I used the word mash-ups—and that’s the creative challenge. It’s not just taking the library and putting it in Building X, but rather, working with Student Affairs and the Business School to develop an entirely new service or environment within a location that isn’t the library.

 

ACRLog: I’m intrigued by the significant role of partnership that comes up here, and you mention in the beginning of the piece the term interaction scienceHow do you see interaction science in this context? How is it changing the librarian profession?

Mathews: Interaction science to me is about how people work together. How they collaborate. How they cooperate. How they communicate. How they frame and explore problems. How they overcome differences. How they produce. Really — big picture — how they interact with each other and their environment. In the different stages of group work, it’s how they form and perform. In my library we study this. We want to learn from these interactions so we can improve our spaces and services. It’s the difference between offering a few tables and chairs and building a curated learning environment. The former is what I tend to see around campus buildings, whereas the latter is what librarians have been building. I think we can export our knowledge, particularly group commons areas, to other locations.

 

ACRLog: In addition to new opportunities, what problems are solved by decentralizing the programs, librarians, and spaces across campus buildings?

Mathews: Most of us don’t have a lot of free space in our buildings, [but] we would be able to offer emerging services elsewhere. I think we would be better able to integrate across campus rather than with a library-centered service perspective. I think it would open new partnerships and strengthen existing ones. I think it could provide better access to tools, resources, and expertise. I think it could help expand people’s thinking about what a libraries does or has to offer.

 

ACRLog: Yes, the idea (perceived or real) that our libraries are no longer filled with books, has in some cases, put pressure on libraries to re-imagine their own spaces for other campus purposes.  Do you see this an opportunity for, or in opposition against what is proposed here?  Or how does the role of the library building change in this new arena?

Mathews: I explore this a bit in my book. The problem I see is that many libraries are trying to do too many things. We want to accommodate digital humanities centers, visualization studios, maker spaces, quiet areas and collaborative areas, and collections, and on and on. There is a lot of pressure on our buildings. I love libraries being filled with books. I think the diffused approach helps us to push out services so that we can maintain collections or repurpose our space accordingly. But it starts by establishing expertise in this area. That’s what I really admire about NC State — their laser focus on learning environments. They have built a solid reputation and could probably advise and partner other units on their campus.I view libraries as prototyping environments. We can test emerging service designs and technologies, improve upon them, and then spin them out elsewhere on campus. I think that is an exciting possibility for our spaces. Our expertise is shaping environments, services, and resources for communities so we can serve as a testing ground for new ideas until they can move on.

Wrapping up our interview by phone, Mathews and I talked further about issues around partnership, like the geopolitics of space and the important role a supportive University administration plays.  The fun things about a piece like this is the way it generates new ideas and connections.  It’s a conversation-starter.  And it seems that reality underlies the whole premise of these spaces – to foster imagination and partnerships that are not just intentional and deliberate, but also spontaneous.  You don’t know what you don’t know, which is my favorite opportunistic problem!

References:

Mathews, B., & Badua, J. (October, 2016). Curating the campus, curating change: A collection of  eight vignettes. http://hdl.handle.net/10919/73191

Mathews, B., & Soistmann, L. A. (2016). Encoding space: Shaping learning environments that unlock human potential.

 

Serendipity’s Not Just for the Stacks

The past week or so has been filled with the rush and excitement of the beginning of the academic year, new and returning faculty and students arriving on campus, a huge change from the quiet days of summer. I’ve just finished up a couple of commitments at my college and university that seem quite different at first glance, but have similarities that I find especially interesting at the beginning of a new semester.

One is a large collegewide grant that focuses on General Education at the college of technology where I work. A core activity of the grant is an annual professional development seminar that draws in full-time and adjunct faculty from across the campus to read, work, and learn together, and ultimately redesign the courses they teach. In the four years of the grant thus far we’ve seen participation from faculty members in nearly every department: from English to Nursing, Hospitality Management to Architectural Technology, and Biology to Computer Systems Technology, just to name a few.

The other commitment is a course that I co-taught last semester at my university’s graduate school in a certificate program in technology and pedagogy. I taught the class with fellow CUNY faculty member Michael Mandiberg, who has a background in art, design, and media culture; my background is anthropology and LIS, and we complemented each other well in teaching the course. Our students were also drawn from a range of disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Most were near the end of their coursework and preparing for their exams and dissertation proposals.

The biggest raves from faculty participants in the grant project at my college were about the opportunity to work with colleagues in other departments. Again and again, faculty have told us that they appreciate having the time and space for interdisciplinary conversations about teaching and learning. And it was fascinating to me to see the same enthusiasm in the graduate students I taught as well, their desire for conversations outside of their disciplinary silos happening before they’d even finished their degrees.

In libraries we often talk about offering opportunities for serendipity in the stacks, recognizing that sometimes browsing can suggest productive tangents or reveal connections that aren’t obvious. Reflecting on the end of my work on the grant and the course I’ve been thinking about serendipity of people, too: human resources, not just information sources. Laura wrote about this a couple of years back when she described a colleague who moved from a crowded building to a new lab, which, while spacious, was no longer in the thick of things, and how much she missed running into colleagues.

Small college libraries like the one where I work are all about students from different majors working and interacting: the library is an inherently interdisciplinary space. Can we encourage the serendipity of interdisciplinary conversations for faculty, too? A dedicated faculty area of the library is one option, though that may be a challenge for smaller libraries where space is at a premium. At my library we’re also thinking about forming a faculty advisory group to encourage regular discussion between librarians and faculty at the college, which may also provide opportunities for interdisciplinary conversations. Partnering with other offices on campus like the Center for Teaching and Learning or the Writing Center to offer workshops or brown bag discussions is another possibility.

Have you found success in fostering interdisciplinary opportunities for faculty in your library? Let us know in the comments!

Summertime Space in the Library

After a long, cold winter in much of the U.S., summer is finally, definitively here. Many of us in academic libraries are taking advantage of the slower summer months to work on projects — both big and small — that may be difficult to get to during the academic year. Hopefully we’re getting the chance for some rest and relaxation as well, so that when the fall rolls around we’re rejuvenated for the start of the new semester.

In the library where I work we’re having a somewhat busier summer than usual. We’ve got a couple of librarians retiring, some new staff coming on board, as well as a major upgrade to the ILS used by all of the colleges within our university system. All of this has meant lots of activity for our librarians, making it in many ways more similar to the full swing of the semester than to the typical summer.

Student use of the library, on the other hand, has been characteristic of the slower summer. While summer classes are offered, there are far fewer classes and students than the rest of the year. The college has fairly high enrollment (17,000 students) for the size of our campus, and during the academic year we struggle to accommodate them in the library. (Luckily, a new building is under construction on our campus which will relieve the congestion when it opens in a few years.) A full, busy college library is a much better problem to have than an empty one, though it does bring challenges. With a colleague I’ve been engaged in a qualitative study of students’ academic culture — including library use — and have identified many of our students’ frustrations with the library that we’re beginning to address.

But as I walked through the very lightly populated library last week, I wondered what lessons we can learn from studying the library during these times of less heavy use, like the summer. What affordances might the summer provide?

During our primetime hours in the academic year we field many student complaints about noise levels in the library. One of our two floors is designated as a quiet individual study floor, but it can be a challenge to maintain quiet when the library is crowded. In the summertime that floor is not just quiet but silent. Students are spread more evenly over the quiet floor as well, and we haven’t had any complaints about the areas of the floor that are often problematic during the academic year. Our other floor, which has areas for group study and individual study, is also quieter during the summer, with more of the groups working together talking in low voices. Again, this is our goal for the academic year, too, but when the library fills up it can be difficult to maintain.

A related topic is student use of computers in the library. We have two small computer labs plus computers adjacent to the reference desk for students to use, and during the semester they are nearly always occupied. One challenge is that some students are clearly using the computers for non-academic reasons, often watching YouTube, shopping, or playing games. Perhaps they have some time to occupy between classes, or are taking a break from their studies. While we have no desire to prohibit activities or websites at our student computers, when we’re busy and there’s a line to print or use the computers for other academic reasons, it can be difficult to reconcile. We do have time management software on our computers and can adjust the settings to reduce session length during the busy periods. But our summer use is instructive — there are plenty of computers both for students who want to work on their assignments and for those who want to watch the occasional World Cup match.

I wonder whether the summertime lack of crowds has offered a window into preferred student library use, as students may be less likely to have to change their behavior based on the presence of others? And, if so, what can this teach us about extending the possibilities for students to find their ideal academic workspace in the library throughout the academic year? I’m already thinking about clearer and more visible signage, and perhaps increasing the number of walk-throughs by librarians, staff, and security to encourage students to keep their voices down in the quiet areas.

Does your library feel different in the summer than during the academic year? Have you gained useful insights from observing your library during the slower summer months?

Office Space in Academic Libraries: Lumpers or Splitters?

Several colleagues and I took a field trip last week to Bronx Community College (BCC), one of the other colleges in our university system, the City University of New York. The library at BCC recently moved into brand new digs in a freshly-constructed building, a rarity for colleges here in the space-challenged NYC metropolitan area. In the library at City Tech where I work, we’re thinking about space use and the possibility of renovations, so we were eager to see what BCC’s librarians and the architects who designed the building had done with the opportunity to build a library space literally from the ground up.

The new BCC library is gorgeous, and my colleagues and I came back to Brooklyn with lots of ideas to think on for our library at City Tech. Curiously, since then I’ve found myself not reflecting on what students are doing in a college library, which is usually the lens I use when I look at space use in our library. Instead, I’ve been considering how we librarians use and move through space in a library.

At City Tech, offices for librarians are located along the perimeter of the library and divided nearly evenly between both of our two floors. We have a few areas that include several offices that open into a shared space, but most of us are in individual spaces with doors that open into the library itself. Staff restrooms and our lounge/kitchen are on one end of the upper floor of the library, our conference room is on the other. My colleagues and I are, for the most part, split up — scattered throughout the library.

BCC’s new library features a different plan for librarian offices: there the offices are clumped together on the first of the library’s two floors. The office area is rectangular with librarian offices along the outside edge, presumably to take advantage of the incredible views that accompany BCC’s location in the University Heights section of the Bronx. The office area also includes staff cubicles (in the center of the space), restrooms, a conference room, and a kitchen/lounge. The librarians are all together, and the space is accessible from one corner of the public area of the library via a single door.

How does office configuration affect the ways that we interact with each other as librarians and with our students and other patrons in the library? Because we’re so spread out at City Tech, I can sometimes go days or even a week without seeing my colleagues who have offices on the other side and floor of the library from me. While of course we mingle in meetings, at the Reference Desk, and in other library-related functions, my colleagues and I often have to intentionally seek each other out to have the kind of casual conversations that were common when I used to work in an office that was all cubicles, the kinds of conversations that I imagine are a part of the daily routine at BCC where the librarians’ offices are all together. Those conversations can provide a social glue that fosters camaraderie and helps a group of people work together as a team.

While I may not see my colleagues as often as I would if our offices were grouped together, a benefit to having librarians spread out like we do at City Tech is that we have to walk through the library’s public areas throughout each day. Anytime I come and go from the library, use the restroom or microwave, or need to make a photocopy, I’m walking through our stacks and study areas. Since I can never really turn off my inner anthropologist, I find that I highly value the opportunity to observe students and other patrons as they use the library. In the best moments these observations can provide inspiration to try something new with our services and resources. And of course the insights they offer can also inform our thinking about renovation possibilities.

It seems like there’s a strong positive side to both lumping and splitting office spaces in the library, so I’m not certain that one layout is clearly better than the other. I wonder if there’s any configuration that would facilitate the advantages of both?