Archive for April 2013

The Academic Commons

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After almost two years, our campus has a library again! I can’t even explain how happy this makes me. So much seating, so many study carrels, so many outlets! And most of the books have come back from storage!

At first I was skeptical about the move to an “academic commons” platform, but I couldn’t be happier with the setup now. 80% of monographs are on site(iirc), and item requests take less than 2 hours to be delivered from off site. I have to hand it to the library team, the transition out and back in to the building has felt seamless from the user end.

The idea of the academic commons is a relatively new one, and not without some controversy, so I figure a quick digital tour might help explain just what it is that DU is now doing different with it’s library system.

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Here’s the building. Before it was just that beige box section, and the construction made it look a bit less soul crushing by adding that curvy front entrance and the little pillared addition on the left. The bike rack count has doubled, but it’s still not enough. Bike parking remains a problem on campus.

It took 2 years or so for this renovation to be completed, which is almost the entire time that I’ve been enrolled. Not having a physical library sucks, let me tell you. A ballroom was repurposed for study space and computers, but it wasn’t enough.

Why the long wait? There was so much asbestos that once the library decided on a renovation they decided to just go all out and redo everything. While there are some familiar areas of the interior the building was all but gutted and rebuilt from the floor up. The bad part about this was that it took forever. The cool part is they got to do some great things.

A small bit of me gets irate when I see the copper plating, because tuition at DU is high, but most of the weird superfluous things in the library, including the fireplace(?!) were the result of direct donations. Apparently donors were eager to fund these little aesthetic touches but wanted to restrict the number of electric outlets that would be available! Thank goodness librarians know how to argue with facts or this whole thing could have been a disaster. Imagine floors of nothing but study spaces but no where to use a laptop for longer that 2hrs max.

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When I arrived at the official opening this huge touch screen wasn’t properly functioning, but it seems to be working well enough now. It greets you as soon as you come in. They went a little crazy with the tech. Every study room, and there are many, has its own little electronic schedule panel on which you can make reservations. Those weren’t working either when I tested them. Apparently the vendor assured the library that the technology would work with the already existing reservation system for the school and it turned out they lied.

The lesson here is that when adopting new technology, don’t believe it when the salesmen says it does everything under the sun.

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This is the first floor of the library, and look, books! Although a large portion of the collection is off site (like all govdocs and bound periodicals) there are still a lot of books. The first floor is dedicated entirely to new arrivals and is a lot of fun to browse. In the back there is the writing center, and to the right the tech center. While both of these services aren’t under the direct control of the library, it makes sense that they share the same roof. The research center is here also. The idea is to make the commons the one stop shop for all academic support needs. (This includes a full cafe, which is always extremely busy when I stop in.)

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In the old building the archives and special collections got a tiny room in the basement and a few mobile shelves. Now the special collections have pride of place in the basement, and instead of the basement being a sunless dungeon a wall has been knocked out and replaced with full length windows. The display space throughout the library has greatly increased. Basically, the every day book has been packed away and now room is available for the special stuff to come out.

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This is what the general collection looks like now. A good number of books are back, but I rarely see students going through here. Browsing is a bit more of a pain but it is possible, and the library’s estimation of how much study space is needed has been pretty spot on. Besides these shelves and the special collections room the bottom floor is almost entirely dedicated to study carrels, they are almost always busy when I come down to use them.

A nice plus is that you can remotely request a book while you are in the library, and clerks will pull it for you and notify you when it hits the front desk.

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This is the deep quiet room, for people who can’t even suffer the clicking of computer keyboards. The clear windows were added so that one could peek in and see if there was room to study before disrupting people by opening the door. Not a bad idea, but I just bring headphones because…

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These are the most amazing things ever. Almost every part of the library has enough space but when I come down to these carrels there is often only one or two left unoccupied. They are cozy, private, clean, and just look awesome. I have 5 hours between work and class to kill on Mondays, and I spend those hours in one of these. I almost want one for my room.