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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.