On Friday, August 12, I attended the Ohio Private Academic Libraries (OPAL) 2011 Annual Conference. The theme was “Uncommon Learning in the Information Commons.” This was my second time I’ve been invited to the OPAL conference, and I had a great time. I found the sessions useful, and I enjoy learning from others about how they do things. My notes for the conference are below.
Breakout Session 1
- Building/Designing around a culture : Our desk, when built in 2004, was designed to have a Library Services (Reference) side of the desk, and a Technology Services (OIT) side of the desk. Both services are now manged by the library, but we still have the huge, separate, bunker-like (Jack’s words) desk. I wish we had a little more foresight to make our service desk more flexible.
- Information Commons is not just about the building. With the changing of the library environment, student expectations of service will change. Patrons do not simply just ask librarians to find stuff anymore, but rather ask them Word and PowerPoint formatting questions, how to scan, and much more.
- Jack mentioned that the Learning Commons is the place for students to see and be seen in a social, academic environment. Likewise, it is a place for us as librarians to be seen as well. In December 2010 we started wearing nametags to indicate that we were library employees (as opposed to faculty, janitorial services, etc). Anecdotally, we have a lot more people stop to ask us questions now that they know we are “official”. Sometimes it makes getting to the restroom a bit challenging.
- Someone asked Jack about the noise level in Learning Commons environments. I remarked that I find it noisier during the quieter times of the year. That is, voices carry more when there are less people on the floor, so it seems noisier. When the floor is packed with people, all of the voices together make a nice “hum” that drowns out individual voices pretty well.
- What’s in a name? When we first moved to the floor, we always answered the phone “Alden Library Learning Commons, this is (state your name) can I help you?” However, we know that students do not call the floor “Learning Commons”; they call it “The Library”. As a result, we have changed how we answer the phone back to just “Alden Library”. A lot of Learning Commons environments are created with donor money, so be careful how you call the space so you don’t get so stuck with a name that doesn’t mean anything to your users.
- Patterns of users: As I walk through our space on a daily basis, it is interesting to see certain patterns of use by individuals. Sometimes the Learning Commons is just like church on Sunday in that people stake out a place and sit there religiously. It’s these folks, our regular users, who I am more inclined to say “hi” to.
- Food Policy: We no longer have a food policy. Long story short, if you don’t have a food policy to enforce, then you can’t get in trouble with custodial services for not enforcing your food policy. We got rid of ours and now spend our energies encouraging folks to clean up after themselves instead of simply saying “no”.
- I voiced my concern that Learning Commons are still being designed around the desktop computing environment. It is hard to tell where technology will go in the next 5-10 years, but I can guarantee it will get smaller, lighter, and more mobile. We have to be looking for different ways to use the space, because the time will come when students won’t come to a Learning Commons simply for the computers. How will we enhance our services? What will we change that students will still find useful?