Student Input Helps Create Library Learning Commons
Public relations major Kaitlyn Parsons wrote the following piece as a feature story class assignment. The article includes input and quotations from both Library personnel and students and truly relates the essence of the space as a student-centric, collaborative environment.
STUDENT INPUT HELPS CREATE LIBRARY LEARNING COMMONS
Students Collaborate with Auburn University to create a library facility
AUBURN, Ala. – The tattoo parlor didn’t make it, but many other services that students requested did. The new Learning Commons that opened in Auburn University’s Ralph Brown Draughon Library in January is a result of student collaboration with administrators to create a space designed specifically for students, by students.
The RBD is a place with which all Auburn University students and faculty are familiar. A second home for many students to meet, study, work, and occasionally, during finals week, sleep. The library’s resources far surpass those of many others around the country.
Since students are the majority of people spending their time in the library, it only made sense to administrators to find out their wants and needs, and implement them. The Commons resulted from a three-year plan to design a space for today’s students.
The space features 300 power outlets, movable whiteboards, 10 study group areas and 415 new seats. The Miller Writing Center, Study Partners, Office of Information Technology Help Desk and library reference services are located in the Learning Commons. Even a Caribou Coffee shop has been added, which, judging from the crowds on any given day, appears to be extremely popular with students.
“Finally, a good coffee place in the library,” Auburn University student Carly Williams says. “I spend a lot more time in the library now that I can get my fix of
caffeine during study breaks!”
The Commons is not an idea unique only to Auburn. Marcia Boosinger, who, as associate dean for public services, oversees reference and instruction in circulation and branch libraries, says the plan to offer spaces constructed by utilizing user feedback has been implemented in many academic libraries throughout the nation. The schools have realized that input about how their users work and study today are imperative to meet their needs.
The process to create the Commons was a long one, but an enjoyable one as well, according to Dean of Auburn University Libraries, Bonnie MacEwan.
“It has been a pleasure and an honor from beginning to end,” MacEwan, says. “It has truly been a team effort.”
The effort was collaborative among many different groups. MacEwan said Auburn’s students helped leaders to understand library related needs; librarians and staff made the ideas into plans; facilities assisted in the actual build; OIT, Study Partners, and the Writing Center joined the effort; and EBSCO industries, the Provost and facilities dug into limited budgets for funding.
The result made the work all worth it, MacEwan said. “I love to walk through and see students being tutored, see them getting computer assistance at the OIT desk, see them consulting with the Reference Librarians, see them gathered in groups and lined up for coffee and snacks at Caribou,” MacEwan says.
MacEwan said that in England, many citizens have “three places” that they go most often. Work and home tend to be the first two, and for adults, the third place is usually a pub. RBD Library’s goal was for the Commons to be that “third place” for Auburn students to go to relax and be comfortable. That’s why the design is flexible, the furniture movable and a coffee shop is available.
For four years, the library has been soliciting feedback from stakeholders about how it can better serve its users. Exercises such as “Draw Your Library”, “I am a Camera”, and “Where Did You Go?”; surveys; and discussions with the Library Student Advisory Council allowed the library to gather information both formally and informally.
“Draw Your Library” was a program started in 2006 in which four or five students were selected at random every half-hour and given instructions to draw what their idea of a single floor of the library should look like and reflect all the services they think were necessary. The students were given pizza and drinks while they worked, and could register for an iPod for participating.
“I am a Camera” recruited random students to take pictures of and describe various aspects in their study habits such as: items they take to class, what they consider high tech, where they go in the library to get help with an assignment, etc.
“Where Do You Go?” was a program designed to discover an idea of where, when and how the library is utilized. Faculty, undergraduate and graduate students were given surveys at the door of the library and asked to check off services they used. The participants were then entered to win an iPod and other prizes. A second survey was used in which large maps were placed on windows and participants would place stickers over areas they used. The feedback was successful, with 960 completed surveys turned in.
“I didn’t mind participating in the surveys,” student Payton Ely, a participant in “Where Do You Go?” said. “It took just a minute and I got the chance to win an iPod. Plus it was cool to feel like I was doing something to help.”
The results of all the programs and surveys were compiled and professional planners and Auburn’s campus partners came in for a two-day design workshop last summer and worked tirelessly to then buy necessary equipment and furnishings. The Commons opened Jan. 11, 2010, the first day of spring semester. It was officially dedicated on Feb. 5.
To publicize the Commons, word of mouth has done a fair amount of the work. Many students talk about the new facility.
“I love the Learning Commons,” Auburn student Grace Seymour says. “It’s so nice to have the extra space, and we definitely needed all of those group study areas. The study rooms used to fill up all the time.”
Auburn’s Web site, the Auburn Daily, Auburn Report, signs in the library and the dedication have all publicized the Commons. RBDpalooza, a gaming event held on March 5, was held in the Learning Commons to encourage students to visit the space.
According to library leadership, the Learning Commons is a positive facility created by the students and for the students, and the RBD Library is a better place because students had a change to make their voices heard.
“I’m so happy to feel a part of something here at Auburn,” Ely says. “It’s great to see something that the student body created. And it’s even better that Auburn listened.”