The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 30, 2013

ASU Library dedicates learning commons

By Kim West

— The atrium was abuzz with activity Wednesday afternoon at the Athens State University Library as students lounged in clusters, patrons joined a burgeoning buffet line and school officials greeted guests and answered questions.

The noise level at the spacious facility on Pryor Street was higher than usual because ASU held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the library’s new learning commons area.

Work began the first week in November and was completed in early December. Library Director Dr. Robert Burkhardt said the dedication ceremony was scheduled in late January to give students an opportunity to sample the learning commons and allow professors time to settle into a new semester.

“We are trying to integrate modern library concepts with what students expect from a traditional library,” Burkhardt said. “We surveyed students and asked them what they wanted.”

Burkhardt said students requested more comfortable seating, a technology help center, tutoring assistance and more collaborative study areas with whiteboards.

The interior re-design project started a few years ago with the Library Resource Committee, a group of faculty members that reviews services and assesses needs for the library.

The Learning Commons Committee was formed by ASU President Dr. Robert Glenn and comprised of members outside the ASU faculty, including those with a background in information technology.

The LCC visited several universities, including Emory, Georgia Tech, UAB, UAH and Auburn, to seek ideas for a learning commons at ASU. The group eliminated an option to add on to the existing library due to cost, conducted a series of focus groups and then shared those needs with the school’s budget advisory committee.

“The project cost between $50,000 and $60,000, and it was paid through discretionary money from the university’s critical-needs fund,” Burkhardt said. “Sometimes it’s really advantageous not to be a pioneer in something … we saw a lot of things we couldn’t afford (during the school visits).”

The ground-floor commons area features between more than 50 new items, including new furniture and computers. A study room on the second floor was refurbished to allow laptops to connect with a big-screen, wall-mounted computer monitor during group study sessions.

Furnishings in bright green, marigold and tangerine were arranged in several portable study areas with whiteboards, cushioned chairs with armrest tables and black mesh partitions.

“Most of the furniture is mobile, and we don’t care if you (change) the furniture configuration,” Burkhardt said.

He said the project’s contractor, Office Interiors by OSCO Inc. in Huntsville, chose furniture that was primarily made by Steelcase Inc. in Athens.

Other areas feature standing computer stands, seated computer stations and a technology help desk, where students can check out Dell laptops to use in the wireless library.

Students are permitted to bring drinks and food into the library but school officials said adding a coffee station is the leading request from students. ASU is working with its current vending provider to bring in a coffee stand with a Keurig coffeemaker with individual flavor options.

The 17-year-old library serves a commuter campus with more than 3,000 students, in addition to the general public. Visitors may obtain a library card to check out materials and use the desktop computers but the 11 laptops are restricted to student use.