Not Your Grandmotherís Library
On the first floor, visitors will find 55 computing workstations clustered together in the middle of the main room and occupied by students working on classroom assignments or research projects, reading or sending e-mail, or instant messaging. Many will be chatting with each other, even eating snacks and drinking coffee and sodas. The area looks more like a high-tech campus hangout than your grandparents’ campus library.
Welcome to the Information Center, a collaborative effort between Janet D. Greenwood Library and Longwood’s Information and Instructional Technology Services (IITS) that provides a “centrally located, common intellectual space for students, librarians and faculty to interact and to have full-service access to technology and expert research assistance,” says Liz Kocevar-Weidinger, instruction/reference services librarian. The Information Center, which opened in fall 2004, is known as an information or learning commons, and has become a focal point of Greenwood Library, named in honor of former Longwood President Janet D. Greenwood.
“This project is part of a national trend in which university libraries have created commons-type areas that incorporate the research process and technology to accommodate students’ learning styles and offer an integrated, holistic approach to learning,” she added. “The space should reflect learning as defined in Scott Bennett’s e-book Libraries Designed for Learning, which promotes aiding students in accessing, evaluating, incorporating and using information, seamlessly, within the walls of the library.
In the old paradigm, the primary function of libraries was to warehouse, or to be the repository for, the knowledge of our society. We have evolved and have moved to a paradigm that is more service- and learning-oriented. We’re still the repository. However, now students can engage in conversations and consult with peers and librarians not only to retrieve information but to work on their course research assignments from beginning to completion. They may eat, drink beverages and talk here while they do research; studies show that this type of environment facilitates student learning. The increased usage of Greenwood Library demonstrates that this approach works better. If we want to serve students better, this has to be a hospitable place to learn and to conduct research. We want to be the Barnes & Noble of Longwood.”
The Information Center features 55 computers in the large Reference/Periodicals room on the first floor. An additional computing center, which includes 16 PCs and audiovisual equipment, is located in an enclosed area on one side of the Children’s Literature room upstairs.
In addition to computer workstations, there are active data ports throughout Greenwood Library and wireless access, which enables students to access Internet resources with their laptops, says Dr. Frank Moore, vice president of information and instructional technology services.
While Kocevar-Weidinger was interviewed one Friday afternoon in her office, on the periphery of the Information Center, dozens of students worked nearby at the PCs as they munched sandwiches from the university’s Chick-Fil-A restaurant, sipped from water bottles, stopped and talked with each other and joked over their computer screens.
“Look at it here now – it used to be deserted here on Friday afternoons,” says Kocevar-Weidinger. “People have even had pizza delivered here. Current studies indicate that our students prefer to work communally, and they like ‘white noise’ (background noise). They’re doing everything in here: researching, writing, e-mailing, recreating. Our students are social creatures; they like to work together. We’ve attempted to create a space that meets their learning needs.”
In December 2006, furniture by Herman Miller, a global Michigan-based manufacturer of office furniture and services, was installed in the Information Center. The furniture includes tables on wheels, white boards, floating marker boards, movable screens, tables with a marker board in the middle, and tables and computer monitors in a variety of configurations. Some of the screens can be moved to create private work spaces.
“The furniture is very mobile and thus students can design their own work spaces,” Kocevar-Weidinger says. “It’s student- centered, which enables us to maximize our services for them.”
The library staff consulted with a Charlottesville company, Chasen’s Business Interiors, in designing the layout. Changes to the layout will be made as more electrical power is added in Greenwood Library, probably in December. “We’re constantly studying ways to provide more and better informal and friendly student learning spaces,” Kocevar-Weidinger says.
Kocevar-Weidinger praises IITS for its collaborative spirit in creating the Information Center. “The Library couldn’t have done this without IITS. Both the Library and IITS acknowledge that these information services are merging, so our departments are collaborating on more and more interesting projects.”
Dr. Moore agrees. “You can’t distinguish between the content and the way the content is conveyed; it’s all bits and bytes,” he says. “The Information Center is one-stop shopping for knowledge. If students have a question about what they’re doing, they can meet with their professor ‘virtually,’ via chat, e-mail or Blackboard (the campus software program for virtual classroom activity), or in person.”
“Visitors should be prepared to see a busy, bustling student-centered learning environment in Greenwood Library,” says Kocevar-Weidinger.