We visited five different campuses: HACC-Gettysburg, Unviersity of Maryland College Park, NOVA-Loudoun, Anne Arundel Community College, and Hagerstown Community College. Our main impression about the five sites included:
For detailed photos and descriptions click on the name of each College
Of all the Commons that we visited the philosophy and coordination of services at HACC-Gettysburg was our favorite. The Library and Tutoring, which is walk-in and includes writing (there is no separate writing center), work closely together to coordinate when helping students and even for covering the main desk. The desk, centered in the room for easy access to all corners of the space, is a true "information/ask us" desk. They are the hub of the campus, which is one giant building that used to be a strip mall. The desk will answer any question and by coordinating with other departments, help students with almost every aspect of their college experience. For example, registration created a training video to show desk staff how students register for classes so when students ask for help in registering while at the Learning Commons, the staff is able to assist. It is truly student centered.
The space is very open and links to the cafeteria and central social area for students. This makes the space very loud so quiet study is often hard to come by. The mix of furniture is old and new (they were required to use the original furniture from the Library), but still manages to invoke the more modern, open, collaborative, and comfortable feel that many Learning Commons strive to obtain.
University of Maryland's learning commons embraces the LC philosophy of letting the students guide the use of the space. The furniture and design reflect that philosophy. Almost all of the furniture is on wheels and students move it whenever and wherever they like; a big part of opening in the morning is moving the furniture back where it originally belongs. In the morning and early afternoon the space is mostly used for quieter individual study. In the evening the space is full of groups: collaborative, loud, and fun. In fact students have taken to calling it "Club McKeldin."
Tech services have been integrated into the space (check-out of laptops, tablets, cables, etc. are very popular) and the writing center and some tutoring services have satellite offices manned a few hours a week. Most library services are located on a different floor but some reference questions are answered if the LC manager is present.
NOVA's Learning Commons was actually an entire building with the Library as a small part. The building was more like H Building (student center, cafeteria, social hangout, tutoring), but without classrooms and with a Library. The Library was on the second and third floors, the first floor of this part of the building held tutorial services and a computer lab. The staircase to the Library was separated from the first floor by glass so noise did not carry into the Library space.
The Library space was very much a traditional Library model. The open space at NOVA was meant for quiet, individual study with group study rooms available for collaboration, rather than having a more rowdy open collaborative space like the UMD Learning Commons. The clean lines and open feel of the Library was very inviting and the Librarians expressed that much more studying happened in the space now than in the older space. Furniture throughout the space was consciously picked to encourage specific behavior: individual carrels for quiet study areas vs. open tables for collaboration.
The AACC Library consists of a completely remodeled older building with a new addition. The space is huge with plenty of room for both collaborative and quiet study. The building has a good mix of traditional library and learning commons features, however students do not have as much freedom to move and rearrange the space as at UMD. Glass walls were again a popular feature along with a mix of collaborative tables, individual kiosks and comfortable furniture.
Favorite features from this space are the group study room set-up and some of the collaborative computer tables. The Library shares the space with student support services who run the large computer lab. Because the management structure of the two services (student support and Library) are so different, it can make it difficult to coordinate services and encourage collaboration.
We visited the Learning Support Center which consolidates all walk-in tutoring in one large open space. Unlike the other spaces visited the Library is not part of this space, although a reference librarian has established visiting hours. The aesthetics of the space still fit part of the Learning Commons model: open, with lots of power outlets available, and glass wall rooms. However, the space is narrowly targeted for tutoring and studying for courses at the college. A Learning Commons is usually designed for many types of use, including non-study use, from many different types of patrons, including non-students, and is meant to give patrons a bit more freedom to choose what they do in the space.
This difference in mission/philosophy can be seen in the lack of different types of furniture configurations at the LSC, such as comfortable chairs, small group tables and study rooms. Some study rooms were retrofitted in a separate area after the space was open, and staff wish they had planned for more group study areas when designing the space. The space is not conducive for very quiet study and students are encouraged to move to the Library, which is in a separate building for quiet study. Laptops and textbooks are checked out for student use in the space and areas are color coded to give students an idea of where they should sit to get help with certain subjects. Tutors regularly walk through the space to see if students need help rather than waiting for students to approach the desk. The space is very large, created from gutting the entire science building, but still manages to be filled completely at peak times. It is also very well funded with plenty of funding for full-time/part-time staff and hourly workers.
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