As colleges increasingly value collaboration among faculty and students — as well as learning both in and out of the classroom — modern campuses find they must reinvent their libraries.
The future for college libraries lies in becoming places that foster curiosity, engagement, collaboration and lifelong learning.
The librarians on most campuses are allotting less new space for physical collections on the central campus and creating more space for people and services. In the past, students would come in search of a book or a series of articles. Now, information is everywhere and can be accessed at any time. Research libraries often rely on offsite facilities with retrieval services to support access to physical collections that continue to expand.
Fifteen years ago, "information commons" first emerged at many academic libraries. Focused on student productivity, the commons offered a one-stop shop, featuring an integrated desktop environment, a robust technology infrastructure and a service model built on collaboration between the library and the university's IT department.
More recently, the "learning commons" has built on the success of the initial concept by adding facilities, such as group study areas and classrooms, and amenities, such as coffee shops. Libraries today also partner with other campus offices to offer academic support, such as writing centers, tutoring and even counseling services, expanding the commons concept beyond simply supporting student productivity to promoting student success.
To deliver these services well, it's more important than ever for library staff to have a close relationship with the campus IT department. Many libraries have members of the IT staff working at a help desk inside the library or alongside library staff at a common desk. The goal is to develop content experts on the library side and technology experts from the IT staff.
Why locate all of this activity in the library? Because that's where the students are.
7 out of 10 UC Berkeley library users who say they rely heavily on campus libraries
SOURCE: UC Berkeley survey of 4,000 users of the campus libraries (July 2012)
Ever More Specialized
Today's library facilities are evolving into a variety of specialized spaces that offer expanded support for digital scholarship, computer-enabled research, data mining and use of emerging digital tools for research.
In the fall of 2011, with further evolution of the "library commons," the Emory University Libraries opened a "research commons" in the main library to address questions from faculty and graduate students interested in digital humanities.
The commons at Emory enhances work in the digital humanities with expert staff, high-end technologies and grant-funded project support. It's also a showcase for new technology and research, offering workshops and seminars on tools and techniques as well as symposiums and lectures by Emory faculty and by visiting scholars, featuring the best current work in digital scholarship.
College libraries are moving from a print-centered model to a more user-centered model, becoming less a place that students must visit to be productive short-term, and more a place that they want to visit because it will prepare them for success on campus and in life. The academic library commons offers access to technology-rich spaces and expert assistance in an environment that supports peer-to-peer learning between students and fosters collaborative research among faculty.
By staying flexible, offering a broad array of services and keeping the technology up to date, university libraries will stay relevant for years to come.