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'Learning Commons' to redefine library space

A library doesn’t always have to be a completely silent, stoic building filled with tables, study nooks and scores of books. In fact, a group at KU has begun a new project based on the idea that students might learn just as well in a library space in which they can socialize, lounge in plush couches, snack and utilize the latest technology, while connecting with the best information, support and campus resources.

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Lariviere recently announced the beginning of the Learning Commons, a modern, collaborative learning site that will be housed in Anschutz Library.

The project is a partnership between KU Libraries, Student Success and Information Technology. An executive committee comprised of staff from all three units has been formed and is performing the first stages of planning.

“We were looking for ways to create really dynamic spaces for students to have in Anschutz Library,” said Jennifer Church-Duran, dean for user services in KU Libraries, about the impetus behind the Learning Commons.

The first step is finding out exactly what students want the space to be. The committee has been hosting focus groups and surveying students, in person and online. Students have offered a number of suggestions for the space, such as comfortable furniture, presentation rooms, LCD projectors and plasma screens. The space will also contain some of the traditional amenities, such as quiet spaces, and areas where students can study in groups. Other ideas such as expanded food services are in the mix.

Anschutz is a good fit for the project, Church-Duran noted, as some students already view it as the more social of KU’s libraries — some even refer to it as “Club Anschutz.” This provides a popular place where the students already congregate and the chance to bring services now distributed across campus together with technology for research and coursework; comfortable, flexible furniture configurations and study spaces; and support from experts in research, advising, career counseling, technology, tutoring and writing.

Many students have voiced interest in participating more in the project, and Kathryn Nemeth Tuttle, associate vice provost for Student Success, is forming a student advisory board to provide input.

Once results from the assessments are in, the committee will review them and decide what features to include and how the commons will physically take shape. Planning will continue through the 2008-09 academic year, and the goal is for construction to begin in 2010.

The executive committee is formed of members from all three partner departments: Church-Duran, Nemeth Tuttle, Kent Miller, associate dean of libraries; Julie Loats, director, Information Technology; Tom Waechter, assistant director, Design and Construction Management; Tracy Horstman, director of space management; Rebecca Smith, director of communications and advancement, KU Libraries; Ann Ermey, program director, Information Technology; and David Mucci, director of KU Memorial Unions.

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