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Planning a Collaboration Commons: a mixed-methods approach to inform design

Delivered at 9th International Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Conference. June 21, 2017
Objective: In preparation for a planned expansion, and renovation transitioning a traditional news and microforms library at Penn State University into a collaboration commons estimated to cost approximately $20,000,000, researchers were charged with investigating the physical workspace needs of students and to assess the need for soft seating to inform final design recommendations.

Methods: The multiple methodologies utilized included student focus groups informed by local results of the Ithaka Survey of Undergraduates, interviews with library personnel and students, an observational study of soft seating usage within existing Knowledge Commons, flip chart prompts, and results of recent space studies.

Results: The majority of Penn State students come to the Libraries to be productive, often working on multiple assignments in one sitting. They desire a variety of spaces and select workspaces based on a number of factors including variety of work, convenience, food availability, and workspaces equipped to meet their needs. Personal work surfaces were described as “spread out,” having multiple devices, snacks, and their cell phone out. Observation data showed an average of 2.28 devices out per observee (n=480). Soft seating was noted as comfortable with aesthetic appeal but little productive value. Observation data showed soft seating used for productive activities at a rate of 2 to 1 over non-productive activities and utilized by individuals over groups at a rate of 15 to 1.

Conclusion: Findings were determined using a process of corroboration across employed methodologies and integrated into final design recommendations. Students come to the Libraries to be productive, but report a general lack of seating to meet productivity needs. Participants want large tables as work surfaces. Facility enhancements for the collaboration commons should include well-designed and equipped spaces for productivity over comfort and the design and furnishings should communicate the types of intended activities and expected behaviors.

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Planning a Collaboration Commons: a mixed-methods approach to inform design

  1. 1. Planning a Collaboration Commons: a mixed-methods approach to inform design Steve Borrelli ■ Chao Su ■ Zoe Chao Penn State University
  2. 2. Catalyst for the Study
  3. 3. Research Questions 1. What are the workspace needs for students today? 2. Should additional soft seating areas be integrated into the design?
  4. 4. Mixed-Methods Employed 1. Student focus groups 2. Observation of use of soft-seating areas (living rooms) in Knowledge Commons 3. Conversations with students in living rooms 4. Interviews with Knowledge Commons personnel 5. Flip charts 6. UX Cafe 7. Existing data (cognitive mapping, Ithaka survey data)
  5. 5. “I come and conquer.” – Female undergraduate student “I come here specifically when I have to get a lot of work done.” – Undergraduate student “If I come I’m coming to do three separate assignments.” – Undergraduate student Students Come to the Library to be Productive
  6. 6. The Library as Motivator “It all comes back to motivation for me, honestly when I see people studying I study because I get distracted a lot. If I’m alone I just want to leave the table, but here I want everyone studying. And it’s called “THE LIBRARY.” – International undergraduate student
  7. 7. Aesthetics of a Space Impact Choice “I’m all about how the room feels. If it feels like I should be studying, I’ll study a lot more. …With all the books around its just classy. I walk in and I feel guilty and like I need to be studying.” - Undergraduate student describing the Paterno Family Humanities Reading Room Zoe Chao
  8. 8. A Lack of Seating Impacts Choice “Oh my god, I avoid the library during finals week.” – Undergraduate student “Literally have to wake up early and claim your territory.” – Undergraduate student “As semester goes on you just like you have to come here at 6 am to get a table.” – Undergraduate student
  9. 9. Students Want Large Tables and Lots of Them “Spread out, it looks like a disaster zone.” – Undergraduate student, describing what her workspace typically looks like “Planner open over here, book open over here, laptop, snacks, cell phone.” –Undergraduate student, describing what her workspace typically looks like
  10. 10. Immense Desire for Increased Outlet Availability “The 3rd floor business, where we like to study, I don’t think there were outlets at every cubby, but now I’m a Junior and there’s outlets there now. You can see that they’re trying to do things like that.”– Undergraduate student, describing what she needs while studying in the library “Not enough outlets in the stacks.” – Undergraduate student, describing what he needs while studying in the library
  11. 11. Desire for a Larger Café With Increased Hours Chao Su Desires in a café: • Open hours reflective of open library hours as possible • When café is closed students want convenient vending with healthy and affordable options
  12. 12. Soft Seating Valued for Comfort but with Limited Use “I’ve never seen anyone successfully study there.” – Undergraduate student, describing her experience with the soft seating areas in the KC “The desks that they have there are not convenient to have your computer on.” – Undergraduate student, describing furnishings in the KC ‘living room’ areas Chao Su
  13. 13. Recommendations 1. Focus design to maximize available seating and workspaces for productivity over comfort 2. Integrate large tables into the design 3. Design spaces such that the intended activities and noise levels are communicated through a combination of furniture and other design elements 4. Limit integration of soft-seating to near entrances and Cafés 5. Configure soft-seating areas as much for productivity as comfort 6. Integrate outlets wherever possible, particularly in the furniture users are sitting in
  14. 14. Questions? Steve Borrelli