The recently renovated CATalyst Studios makerspace at the University of Arizona’s Main Library gives students hands-on experience with the latest tech, say Shan Sutton, Dean of University Libraries (left), and Vice Dean Sarah Shreeves.

Feb 10 2023

University Libraries Evolve to Support Future Needs

Higher education institutions are renovating their libraries to increase technology access, build more spaces for student collaboration, and house student and IT services.

Since opening in 1977, the University of Arizona’s Main Library in Tuscon has served as a central hub for students to study and conduct research, but it hadn’t changed much in four decades.

Despite small renovations that included improved computer access and special collections areas, it still looked and felt like an old-fashioned library, with rows of bookshelves, stationary wooden tables and study carrels that didn’t meet students’ needs.

The university recently completed major library renovations, and the first two floors have now been transformed into a bright, colorful and airy space full of state-of-the-art technology, flexible furniture with hard and soft seating, and new rooms for classes, quiet study and group collaboration.

A newly expanded makerspace, CATalyst Studios, allows students to build things, record podcasts, film video content and use virtual reality technology. The space houses Ultimaker 3D printers and the Data Studio, a room where students can meet to access high-performance computing and share data visualizations on a large video wall.

“We are a library that still holds to the mission of leveling the playing field for all students,” says Shan Sutton, dean of university libraries. “Traditionally, that was access to study areas and a print collection, and we still do that, but now we try to level the playing field in terms of technology access and through our CATalyst Studios, giving students the opportunity to learn by designing and building things.”

An increasing number of colleges and universities are modernizing their libraries to meet the needs of today’s students. As digital collections replace printed books and periodicals, space is freed up for computer labs, collaborative study spaces, audiovisual equipment, and flexible and movable furniture. The changes also allow libraries to offer nontraditional amenities, such as tutoring, tech support and other student services.

“Academic libraries are keeping pace with technological change the best they can, but the degree to which they can do that varies based on resources and institutional focus,” says Erin L. Ellis, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

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University of Arizona Opens Student Success District

In April 2022, the University of Arizona celebrated the opening of its Student Success District, an $81 million project that unites student programs — including library services — across four buildings in a 9-acre area in the middle of campus.

The project included the major renovations to the Main Library and the Albert B. Weaver Science-Engineering Library as well as investments in two additional buildings that house student services. The buildings are connected by shaded outdoor seating areas with Wi-Fi access, Sutton says.

“It’s a cohesive student experience between the four buildings,” he says.

The university added cutting-edge technology and flexible study and meeting spaces to the Main Library. Students can reserve group study rooms, videoconferencing rooms, and presentation rooms with large LCD monitors, webcams and document cameras.

University Information and Technology Services moved its 24/7 service to the first floor. That floor also features a computer lab with 19 Mac Pros offering access to computer-aided design, animation and video editing software.

Students can go to the Tech Toolshed, also on the first floor, to borrow tech gear such as MacBook and Lenovo laptops, iPad devices and Microsoft Surface Pro tablets, Verizon mobile hotspots, and GoPro and Canon cameras.

Shan Sutton and Sarah Shreeves

Vice Dean Sarah Shreeves and Dean of University Libraries Shan Sutton pose inside one of the recently renovated libraries at the University of Arizona.


“Some students are struggling financially and can’t afford a laptop or Wi-Fi,” says Sarah Shreeves, the vice dean of university libraries. “We also have students whose laptops break down, so they can come in and borrow something for emergencies.”

Overall, the renovated library is popular, Sutton says. “We were stunned that it was packed full of students during the first week of the fall semester since there are typically no assignments to work on at that point. But the mission of the library is much broader than it used to be.”

University of New Mexico Opens Adobe Creative Commons

In November, the University of New Mexico opened Adobe Creative Commons, a digital media workspace at the Zimmerman Library where students can pursue creative projects, such as videos, podcasts and graphic design.

Research shows that for students to succeed in the modern job market, they must develop soft skills such as creativity, communication and collaboration. Adobe Creative Commons is a space where they can do so, says Elisha Allen, the university’s director of online strategies and academic technologies.

Adobe Creative Commons features high-powered Macs and PCs running Adobe Creative Cloud software, two secluded editing bays, two fully equipped soundproof audio booths for podcasts and tables with large LED displays for students to collaborate. Adobe donated $100,000 to create the space.

Staff provide training and support on how to use Adobe software and the equipment, and students can borrow technology for their creative pursuits. The space also includes an IT service desk where students can get computing and application support, Allen says.

LEARN MORE: How HBCUs incorporate Adobe tools to foster digital literacy.

Adobe Creative Commons is part of the library’s broader efforts to promote digital literacy and diversify its services, says Leo Lo, dean of UNM’s College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences.

The new space is located in the Learning Commons on the library’s first floor, a hub of student activity that also features a cafe, treadmill desks and areas for students to collaborate.

“This is a place where students can feel comfortable, talk and do group work and not worry about having to be quiet,” Lo says.

Sam Houston State Increases Collaboration Spaces

In Huntsville, Texas, Sam Houston State University has renovated the first two floors of its library. The 53-year-old Newton Gresham Library now provides students with more technology and collaborative spaces, and it houses the university’s First-Generation Center and Academic Success Center, which offer mentoring and tutoring resources.

“The goal is for the library to become a one-stop shop for academic services and support, so when students need certain things, they know where to go,” says Lisa Shen, SHSU’s director of library public services.

Before, the library had a computer lab, but there were very few places for students to collaborate and use technology, says Eric Owen, the library’s executive director. There were two tables set up with monitors, but they were not in enclosed spaces.

In fall 2021, SHSU completed a $15 million library renovation that includes 17 new group study rooms and conference rooms featuring 65- and 75-inch Samsung 4K displays.


The average occupancy rate of the new group study rooms equipped with large LED monitors at Sam Houston State University’s Newton Gresham Library

Source: Sam Houston State University

“Now, we have enclosed spaces for groups of four to 10 students,” Owen says. “There are also alcoves and nooks with large displays where students can gather and work collaboratively.”

To make space on the first two floors, the library staff moved their offices, digitized some library materials, discarded unused print materials and installed compact shelving to consolidate seldom-used items into a smaller footprint, says Michael Hanson, director of library technical services.

The library also upgraded its computer lab with 80 Dell OptiPlex all-in-one computers, several Macs, Canon printers and HP scanners. It also created a video recording studio.

The staff beefed up Wi-Fi and furnished the renovated space with flexible furniture, including sofas and movable whiteboards.

“We really focused on maximizing student space and making it much more welcoming, friendly and collaborative,” Owen says. “It’s been very popular.”

Photography by Mark Peterman

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