Time to Reinvent the Old Common Room

My top priority in a new library would be an inter-disciplinary staff common room configured with technology to support collaborative workspaces for individual and small groups to exploit information sharing for teaching and research with librarians ever present.

Returning from battling the wind and the rain walking round Dove Lake in the Cradle Mountain National Park I did my usual Foursquare checkin that also finds its way to my Twitter stream. The unexpected tweeted reply from colleague Carolyn, @camcd, turned my thoughts to answering the question ‘If you were to open a new library, what would be your top priority?’. I assume a university library is intended.

As it happened just recently following my retirement I had been thinking of this very problem. I have come to think the functions of the traditional library should be present in every contact hour of teaching in every class. The Internet and web are where information is stored, accessed and curated, and so there is no need for dedicated physical ‘library’ spaces. Where librarians can still be effective is in the promotion and demonstration of innovative information discovery for the synthesis of new information in the learning and research processes.

In principle this ‘new’ library functionality can be exposed and operated online so no opening is involved as such. However the faculty and students in higher education have a strong tradition of being social so want naturally to come together in a physical space to exploit the new library functionality. In my own institution the students are well catered for in such spaces as the multimedia learning centre with its individual and group workstations, shared displays and collaborative technology.

collaborationspaceMy own top priority would be a similar space for faculty, deliberately shared by all disciplines. This is a throwback to the old staff common room or club only with information sharing at its hub in a modern, technological context. I imagine this common room to support many of the functions of innovative collaborative work spaces envisaged by the Harvard Business Review post by Adam Richarson. He mentions some of the features of theStanford d.school — a large, open, collaborative design space. Adam also observes:

Most corporate buildings don’t do a good job of supporting collaboration, brainstorming, and innovative work methods. They tend to be dominated by cubicles or offices which are suited for individual work, or by hard-to-book conference rooms that teams can use but only for short periods of time. What’s needed is a more flexible space that better supports teams and inspires more open thinking.

Adam proposes spaces that are inspired by design thinking practices in creative companies.

Starting from the base of an Internet café with all-day coffee and individual workstations, I would add shared workstation tables set for standing height where up to four people could gather, either bringing there own Internet connected devices or making use of embedded tablets built into the horizontal surfaces of the tables not unlike Microsoft Surface tables. All devices/workstations should be able to connect to a number of large displays for shared viewing.

With individual faculty offices now downsized and limited to seating 3 people there is a great need for a space where groups of 4 to 8 staff can meet either for serendipitous or planned purposes. Bookable small meeting rooms are needed as well as the individual and group open-plan worktables.

So I propose a traditional staff common room but with modern technological accoutrements and with librarians on hand to offer advice and hands-on demos of innovative information discovery and synthesis techniques.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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