Monday, December 8, 2008

Learning? Commons

One of the latest trends in academic library spaces across the United States is the creation of Learning Commons. These spaces are generally created by renovating portions of existing libraries in an effort to efficiently serve the student patrons they serve. These spaces are designed to bring together multiple services in one central location where students can go in the pursuit of their studies.
Most Learning Commons (LC) spaces are designed with specific areas and services that meet the needs of the student patrons that use the academic library and Learnig Commons (LC). Most LCs contain spaces for quiet independent study and for collaborative group work and study. A large portion of the LCs will be made up of computer terminals and workstations, where students can come to study, write, e-mail, or search through the library’s resources. They also always integrate multiple service desks that cater to student needs: Technology help desks, Reference desk, Writing assistance desks, career services, and ILL desks. The entire design and service model is focused on the needs of the students and aims to aid them in their studies.
While these spaces are extremely useful for the patrons, some LC designs have recently been going too far. One of the ideas behind LCs is connecting students with the latest technologies to help further their education and ultimately their careers. This means the libraries spend a great deal of money and resources on newer technologies, including the many new computer workstations that go into the LC. The technologies are seen as necessary tools in the information gathering and education of the students. This all makes complete sense in the library setting; however, there are some technologies that seem out of place.
Some academic library LCs have been adding technology that does not seem to exactly fit into the library setting. There are a few libraries that have set up large HD televisions in their LCs along with “stylish” furniture. They proudly proclaim that students can come to the LC and sit back and watch CNN. Instead of utilizing technology to efficiently meet the students’ education needs, these libraries are utilizing technology to simply bring in more students. It seems the management teams of these libraries are more worried about driving up gate counts than with providing students with access to information and with the proper help in their education. In this case, it seems they have ended up creating a new student center where students can go to unwind rather than study. Someone should remind these places that gate counts are not everything. If more libraries continue to follow this trend, they could eventually lose their identity as efficient sources or access points to information. Technology can be a powerful tool in the process of learning and libraries are wise to utilize new technologies; however, libraries need to stick to the technologies that enable patrons with efficient access to information if they hope to maintain their identity as important information sources in the 21st century.

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