Reactions and Questions Based on John Popko's Presentation
This past week brought a compelling presentation by John Popko, University Librarian at Seattle University, explaining the process by which the Lemieux Library & McGoldrick Learning Commons came to be realized. I wanted to share my thoughts and reactions.
1. Concept: John presented the “big idea” he shared with his Provost to spur the renovation of Seattle University’s library – the learning commons: “The learning commons will enable new relationships and modes of service that will benefit students.” More specifically, the library would be a mix of the old and the new, a place and a presence, a repository and an active learning space, tangible and digital, traditional and transformative. A Wilson Library renovation has been talked about for a long time. What would you like to see in a new library renovation? What current needs would you like to see addressed? What opportunities do you see? What might we preserve? What might we change? Why would these preservations/changes be important for Western, especially for student learning?
2. Learning commons development: Over the last few years, Western Libraries have been pursuing a learning commons just as Seattle University and many other academic libraries have. While we have a different mix of partners (including support for faculty writing instruction, for example), we have also co-located various academic support programs from across the campus into one location. Like SU's learning commons, we also aspire to go beyond on-stop shopping to collaborative inquiry. Here's our mission statement: “a vibrant, interactive online and physical space in the Library, the Learning Commons at Western Washington University integrates teaching, learning, information, and technology resources for a community engaged in spirited dialogue, individual learning, and collective discovery.”
While co-location is the first step, the second is for the partners to further collaborate by integrating services, developing shared learning outcomes, utilizing common technologies, and assessing their impact on student learning at Western. We’ve created an advisory board led by Learning Commons Coordinator Carmen Werder to do just this. Have you visited the learning commons? Do you have any ideas for developing it? What other partners might you suggest for us to include in the learning commons if we were to expand it at some later date? How might we explore the creation of faculty spaces within the learning commons and what might those look like?
3. Designed for learning, but challenging to assess: Modern library renovations put the emphasis on learning. While this emphasis certainly includes more traditional library services like collections and services like reference, there is increased attention paid to emphasis on library faculty’s presence in the classroom and curriculum and to designing library spaces conducive to supporting learning. At the presentation a participant asked how we know if these changes to library spaces do advance student learning? Well, the answer is that it’s not easy to measure. Just as we know that assessing classroom learning is a complex and multi-layered challenge, the same is true of assessing the impact of co-curricular influences.
First of all, we do know that, just like other libraries, the changes we have made of integrating our learning commons partners, adding a café, etc., have increased our usage. Our gate count has risen from roughly 800,000 when I was hired to well over 1 million visits a year. Usage of the Writing Center has doubled and usage of the Tutoring Center is up 31%. Data also showed that students tend to stay longer in the Library as more and more of their learnign needs are supported in one place. Circulation of materials is also up, suggesting that students are visiting the library for one reason and end up checking out materials and utilizing our services. Also, the changes we are making in furniture and space configurations reflect the findings in other places such as studies done by scholars at libraries like the University of Rochester (see Gibbons and Foster “Studying Students,” https://urresearch.rochester.edu/institutionalPublicationPublicView.action?institutionalItemId=7044).
Lastly, studies have shown a link between such changes in library facilities and increased student recruitment and retention. The truth is, for years libraries have relied on statistics of usage alone (number of volumes, circulation, reference questions) to evaluate quality. Just like the University we are part of, libraries are being asked to assess what we do in terms of other qualitative impacts: student enrollment, student achievement and learning, faculty grants, faculty research productivity (see ACRL Value of Academic Libraries - http://www.acrl.ala.org/value/. We’ll be working with the Office of Institutional Assessment this summer to begin exploring what data already exist and what data we should be collecting to better measure how the library directly contributes to student and faculty success.
4. Where are the books? Another participant at the presentation asked John about the lack of pictures of books in the new library. There are books in the new Seattle University library, but the images he was emphasizing (because of the topic of his talk) were of the new, interactive spaces developed. Similarly, a few years ago, library consultant Scott Bennett did a presentation regarding library space. In his presentation, he explored how libraries have moved through three paradigm shifts: from reader centered, to book centered, to learning centered. With information more freely available and easily accessible, libraries have moved away from emphasizing collections in their spaces to creating spaces designed to foster learning, where students and faculty alike can access and interact with knowledge in all forms and make new meaning from what they find (see Scott Bennett - "Libraries and Learning: A History of Paradigm Change," portal: Libraries and the Academy. 9, 2 (April 2009), 181-197 (http://www.libraryspaceplanning.com/assets/resource/Libraries-and-learning.pdf). In order to more clearly and deliberately become an integral partner in the education mission of Western and to assist Western in achieving its strategic goals, the library will need to continue to assess our collections and explore off site shelving alternatives as appropriate.
5. Building community, maintaining sanctuary: Another goal of library renovations is the building of community and the creation of spaces which engender a community of scholarship among students and faculty alike. What might these spaces look like? What furniture might work well in this re-configuration? Acknowledging the diverse needs of Library users, how might we continue to devote spaces for quiet study and contemplation? What furniture and décor might we choose for these spaces?