In 2007, the NCSU Libraries’ opened D. H. Hill Library’s Learning Commons, which is not only student-centered-
… but a student-defined space.
The Learning Commons is designed to accommodate the rapid changes taking place in how students study and learn, and how they socialize and communicate.
It facilitates change by offering students a place that inspires and sparks their imagination.
I like to think about the Learning Commons in much simpler terms-
The Commons is a place to congregate…
Since the Learning Commons opened, use of the space has been amazing. The number of students in the library at 10pm can be as many as 700, with 200 or more in the Learning Commons itself.
The Learning Commons has now been open for over two years. One of the most important issues that we face is how do we keep the energy and vision of the Commons going? How do we prevent the Learning Commons from turning into a computer lab?
I believe that in order to keep the spirit of the Commons going, you must have three key components- innovative services, dynamic programming…
… and an actively engaged staff. - Staff that not only enjoy being in the Commons but also see opportunities in these moments to market the library and develop long-term relationships with students and faculty.
The culture of the Commons at night is quite different than during the day. Students stay for longer periods of time, instead of just running in to check email in between classes. On any given night, a student can meet with a group to study in one of our group study rooms, take a break and order pizza, play video games with their friends, and then settle into the evening by working with a librarian to locate sources for a paper they plan to write into the morning hours. I think there are enough students living this sort of life to consider it a “lifestyle”- a Learning Commons lifestyle.
As I mentioned before, the Commons can be a quite lively place with its own sort of “hum”. You can see things like this- where students break into a salsa dance, or students wearing bunny slippers playing guitar hero.
All of this social activity (and the noise that comes with it) must be balanced with the needs of other students that are working individually in the Commons at the same time. There can be times when things can get tense when trying to manage everyone’s needs.It is also something to be considered when thinking about programming activities in the Commons. Yes, it is where everyone congregates, but what type of noise level is acceptable?
-Althoughmanaging noise levels and varying needs can be a challenge in the Commons during the evening, we do seem to all get along in the end. (Halloween in the Commons)- Robo-George Washington and Darth Lincoln…
So the Learning Commons After Dark series grew out of recognition of the active night culture of the Learning Commons. The students were already using and occupying the space for long periods of time- why not create dynamic programming for the nighttime Commons’ community?The image shown on this slide was the first image I created for the series. I wanted a brand image that I could reuse for different events- altering the image only slightly.
I should start off by saying that we had big hopes for our programming ideas. We proposed many different types of programs that varied in cost from free to over $100. I am sure most of you will understand when I say that some of our ideas were approved, and others, well, we would have loved to have received approval for. I will present a variety of programs that we were able to hold, and others that we still really would be great types of events.
When I started thinking about what types of games would be attractive to students on a board gaming night, of course the traditional ones came to mind- chess, “Pictionary”, etc. We already had many of those games available for checkout, but they were not often used. In passing I mentioned that I used to love to play games like “Candy Land”- and jokingly mentioned that we should buy “Candy Land” for the library. One of our students walked over to me and said “Dude I would so play that…” I think it goes to show that approaching even something like board gaming night with a little bit of whimsy and imagination may change the culture of the event.
-Some of the games we added to our collection.
Amazing- even though they had no idea how to play, they still had a great time!
-Oh- Battleship is really popular too. I think it would do really well on a regular board gaming night.
Video gaming events are also a regular part of our programming. We began collaborating with one of the student clubs- The Multiplayer Gaming Club- to host video game events in the Learning Commons. They are really easy events to host, usually the student club furnishes the food and sodas. We just provideenough large monitors, games, and consoles. It also is a great way to promote our collection of games, and to get feedback from the gamers about other games they would like to see added to the collection.The Super Smash Brothers event was one of the first video game events held in the Learning Commons, it was quite a popular event. However…
This is the gaming space in the Learning Commons. As you can see it backs up to workstations where students are studying. As the Multiplayer Gaming Club events grew, we realized we could no longer accommodate the event in the LC.
-So we moved the event upstairs in a larger room with (as you can see) a very large screen for gaming as well. I think this is an example of an event that started out in the appropriate space, but needed to be moved because of growing popularity and noise concerns.
Of course what we discovered is that you can’t just show a movie from your media collection for a public event. So we contacted the student Union Activities Board- who shows movies on campus. They connected us with a great movie distributor with reasonable prices. Our vision is to hold an event called “It Came From The Sci-Fi Collection”. There would be a student viewing of Blade Runner in the library’s theater. Concessions and an exhibition of the new speculative fiction collection would be held in the Learning Commons prior to the screening of the film.Because of budgeting concerns, we were not able to hold this event.
We also had evening workshops and demos in the Learning Commons Presentation Practice Room. Workshops such as “Effective Presentations” and “Improving Your Photographs Using Photoshop” have been held, as well as a Second Life demo in which students were invited to set up a Second Life account and create their first avatar.
Another recent addition to workshops in the Learning Commons is a series of digital photography hands-on workshops. The workshops were precipitated by the Libraries’ recent purchase of two DSLR cameras. A student who is active on the library committee suggested the purchase, and offered to teach photography workshops.
The first event was held in the evening during the summer, and we had over 20 people participate in the workshop. It was amazing! The student teaching the workshop used one of our new cameras for instruction, which publicized our new device acquisition.
There was even still lifes set up for students to practice with their cameras. In the future we hope to include displays of photography books we have in ourcollection.
-Speaking of inexpensive but effective events… When I was trying to familiarize myself with what student clubs and organizations we had on campus, I noticed a very original club- the Sock Animal Club. They even have their own website, with great pictures of their activities and creations. The Sock Animal Club meets once a week to make sock animals. The president of the club is a master sock animal maker. She has made every type of animal you can think of, and she enjoys teaching others how to make them as well.The Sock Animal Club sparked an idea for a collaboration between the library and the student club. There is a historical hosiery collection at the NCSU Burlington Textiles Library. When I was attending library school, the collection was brought up in every class as an example of an unusual collection. -- And yet, I have never seen anything from the collection, and no one in my department had ever even heard of it.I contacted the Textiles Library to confirm that there was indeed a historical hosiery collection at the library (it was not a myth!!). Suddenly, an event idea was born:
The “Sock It to Me” event would be a collaboration between D H Hill Library, the Burlington Textiles Library, and the Sock Animal Club. A table would be set up in the Learning Commons where students could participate in a sock animal workshop and learn to make a sock animal. Around the event would be two large monitors with pictures of items from the historical hosiery collection, along with information about the collection, and the Burlington Textiles Library.Books from our collection about costuming, the history of hosiery, etc. would be displayed as well.
Although we worked really hard to get this event off the ground, we have yet to be able to get it on the calendar. One of the things to consider when trying to collaborate with campus clubs or organizations is to make sure that they understand that items have to be approved by administration, and that it takes time. I was concerned that I was inconveniencing the Sock Animal Club by not being able to provide an exact date that we could hold the event.When I mentioned my concerns to the Sock Animal Club president, she said the most amazing thing to me. She said that the group was just flattered that the library took notice of them- and that they we not at all upset. Even if they were, Elizabeth told me- “The Sock Animal Club holds no grudges.”– Now how awesome is that????There are so many interesting student groups and clubs on campus. It is a wonderful way to get to know the students, and to come up with some really diverse programming ideas.I still stop by and make sock animals with the club from time to time. I enjoy making the animals, as well as listening to the students talk about school and things going on in their lives. If they mention writing a paper, or needing to find information, you better believe that I take the opportunity to offer my assistance and to promote the library!! Regardless, I am very lucky to have spent time with such a wonderful group of students…
A very simple idea is to have “Reference Books of the Week”. We displayed interesting, non-traditional type specialized encyclopedias on the reference desk. I am a big fan of specialized encyclopedias, and really support the idea of students using them when they are trying to develop paper topics. Our first theme worked amazing well. We found a couple of comic book encyclopedias with bright pictures, and interesting entries. Students would actually sit down at the reference desk and flip through the books and start discussing their favorite characters. Some of the students would unconsciously evaluate the sources, mentioning how one book’s entries made more sense, or they liked the way the other one was in chronological order.Students sitting down and looking at the books gave us the opportunity to mention that there are other types of specialized encyclopedias as well. Some of the students would actually be interested in looking at other types of resources after that.
We did discover that not all types of books are a wild hit at the desk. If the books are very colorful and visual, students will pick them up and look at them. If they have a library binding and are all text- it is very rare that any of the students would even give them a second glance.For April Fool’s Day, we tried joke books, and humorous quotation books. Both were a bust. I think that the books have to look like they are fun, or can be glanced at and enjoyed quickly to catch their attention. We thought about architecture books as being another interesting item to try, or costume encyclopedias- they might be a hit as well. If nothing else, I always hope to open up a dialogue with students, and encourage lifelong learning with these types of displays.
Last summer the Director of the Learning Commons asked me to put together a brief video announcing the addition of Flip video cameras to our circulation collection for students. The video would run (silently) on the Learning Commons site and on the e-boards. I thought it would really be fun to include students in the video, so I contacted the person who represents the cheerleading squad. Three cheerleaders volunteered.We had SO much fun making this video. The cheerleaders were amazing. Some of them did not know that we offered device lending services, or that the library was open so late. -So again- another opportunity was created not only to highlight items in our collection, but to market our services and build relationships with students.
Learning Commons After Dark
Jennifer CalvoReference Librarian for the Learning CommonsNCSU Libraries