Creating Library Learning Spaces that Support 21st Century Pedagogy

Debbie Christoffersen, Clifton Farnsworth, Ph.D., Evan Bingham, and James Smith, Ph.D.
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah

University libraries currently struggle to keep up with rapid changing technology and the associated change in teaching strategy. Technology advancements have also impacted facilities due to the significantly higher student demand for access to wireless internet, cell phone boosters for better reception on personal devices, and on demand access to almost limitless electrical outlets. These are changes that buildings, even those built as recently as twenty years ago, were not designed to accommodate. In order to maintain their place as an essential part of the academic ecology, libraries must be redesigned to meet the current learning needs of college students. Most administrators, librarians, and even facility managers are often not trained to assess space needs and struggle to reassign library spaces for non-traditional library use. As such, they often embark on expensive and time-consuming feasibility studies, using (typically) hard-fought monies to complete the research or to pilot a new space. What academic research library administrators and staff lack is the experience and tools necessary for making cost effective planning decisions and implementing needed renovations and improvements in aging library facilities.

The purpose of this research is to: 1) determine how students use library spaces to learn in this new high-tech, hands-on education experience, 2) develop a tool that can be used by library staff to self-analyze existing academic research library spaces, identifying areas that could be improved for student benefit (e.g. provide a checklist of potential learning spaces that institutions should carefully consider adding to their facilities), and 3) provide a cost breakdown of identified potential facility improvements. This study uses both grounded theory and ethnography. The development of the analysis tool will occur through a Delphi style process by conducting interviews with a panel of academic research library experts, synthesizing their experience and ideas about essential 21st century library learning spaces. This tool is essentially a ranked list of potential space improvements. The tool will then be tested, updated as needed, and validated through a series of on-site visits with multiple academic research libraries.

Pedagogy is the driver for changes in academic libraries. Although technology is changing, so too are user needs, habits, and expectations. Simply put, students are learning differently. Libraries have to adapt their behaviors to continue to help campus research and learning communities thrive. Because technology and remote access can have an isolating effect on people, the physical library must continue to be a space that brings people together. Unfortunately, students are tending to make less use of outdated facilities and environments. Therefore, academic libraries are being compelled to adapt space and other resources to the changing needs of the campus community. Key design concepts for investigation include natural lighting, increased access to electricity, flexible space/furniture, variety of space offering, determining the library role in campus ecology, and the idea that students own the library (not librarians). The focus of this research is exploring how these ideas can be incorporated with current renovation best practices and the Hierarchy of Learning Space Attributes, including access and linkages, uses and activities, sociability, and comfort and image.

It is anticipated that the results of this research will allow academic institutions to make informed decisions regarding effective library space reallocation and potentially decrease financial investment in the ground level research phase of remodels. Ultimately, this research will provide a collective synthesis of the best practices of various institutions over the last decade or so. Allocated resources can then be used immediately to implement verified and important changes to a facility while additional research and planning is invested in more long-term solutions.

Keywords: Academic research library, Renovation, Space reallocation