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The Learning Commons has it all

By Marisa Long

In conjunction with the beginning of the new academic year, the second floor of Alden Library reopens today after six months of renovations, and students entering the floor will see a major transformation from a quiet study area to the high-tech Learning Commons.

Learning Commons photos by Rick FaticaThe Learning Commons is focused on technology, convenience, assistance and support, says Julia Zimmerman, dean of university libraries. The new environment offers students almost everything they need to work efficiently.

"We recognized the increased role technology is playing in the world today," she says. "The commons brings together technology, tutoring services, information resources and professional assistance in one place. It's designed for students and the way they study and learn today."

Upon entering the second floor from one of two entrances, guests are welcomed by a spacious area offset by bright purple and pink decor. They are immediately directed toward a large circular service hub in the center of the commons. The hub is home to information regarding reference and instruction, computer and technological support, the student writing center and the academic advancement center.

"My hope is that students really will come together to one floor and get all of their questions answered," says Renee Geary, reference and instruction librarian in Alden Library. "The commons should serve as a one-stop-shop for students."

The new facility also includes 120 computer workstations dispersed throughout the floor in printer-sharing clusters of six, and there are laptop computers available for students to check out and use in the library. An increase in individual and group study areas along with additional space and resources for project-based and collaborative learning are included in the Learning Commons. Self-service photocopying and printing is on hand, and adaptive technologies and support services for disabled learners are available as well.

The commons will offer students many Web-based periodical subscriptions and scholarly information that is not available through free Internet by utilizing OhioLink, a program that links 80 libraries across the state of Ohio. Students will have access to more than five million individual journal articles with approximately 13,500 journal publications available online. There are currently 40 million books circulating OhioLink.

Learning Commons photos by Rick Fatica"Libraries used to be like warehouses just holding information, but now we deal with a huge collection of Web-based information on top of physical information," Zimmerman says. "We're aware that students are studying, researching, learning and using libraries much differently than before."

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Learning Commons is that starting Oct. 25 the facility will be open for 24 hours Sunday through Thursday, with additional extended hours on weekends. Currently, it is open during regular library hours. Five new full-time employees, including two nighttime supervisors, one additional reference librarian, an electronic access librarian and a computer technician, have been hired to assist with the additional hours and technological advances of the facility. Additional students will also be hired to work during night hours.

The Learning Commons is a $1.4 million project funded by Bicentennial Campaign and individual contributions and library savings. It is a cooperative project among the university libraries, computer services and University College.

"Ohio University is doing a lot of fresh and exciting programs on campus to enrich undergraduate education and to create the condition for what President McDavis calls a 'community of learners,'" says David Descutner, dean of University College. "Community illustrates the importance of collaboration in a decentralized university to produce those conditions."

A second phase of the renovations, which will begin in the summer of 2005, will include snack/cafe space and additional expansion of the Commons. A committee consisting of faculty and staff contributed advice and support for the project. A separate student advisory committee helped decide what services and resources should be included in the Commons. Additionally, a student survey seeking student ideas was distributed at the library. Zimmerman hopes to establish a permanent student advisory committee to give input on future renovations and changes to the library.

"It's just such an attractive and inviting environment for students," she says. "We hope that once students see it, they'll want to come back again and again."

There will be a grand opening ceremony for the Learning Commons held during Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 22-24. For more information, visit the Alden Library Web site at www.library.ohiou.edu.  

Marisa Long is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.

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