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Beyond the Books, New Commons Brings Social Learning Experience

 

After you read this, close your eyes…

Then, imagine the bottom floor of Olivet College’s Burrage Library covered with private study rooms for students. Envision a renovation that puts students and Information Technology Services (ITS) in the same location, so direct access is possible. And conjure up an instance where learning and fun and collaboration work as one in a college setting.

That vision is now a reality. Thanks to a lead gift from Steve ’82 and Melinda (Strother) ’82 Roznowski, the ground floor of Burrage Library undertook a major renovation as part of the Master Plan that will allow students to have a complete social learning experience.

“I am excited about this project for the academic and collegial opportunities it will offer our students and visitors – a fresh, comfortable place to talk and work in community,” said Joanne Williams, associate professor of journalism and mass communication. As part of the Library Advancement Committee (LAC), a six-member group tasked with ensuring Burrage Library’s success, Williams looks forward to an environment that better meets today’s students’ needs.

“Changes such as extended hours – so students can gather, seek help and feel comfortable on campus whenever they want in a multi-purpose setting – are a big deal,” Williams added. “I hope it will truly be a learning commons, a place to work and achieve in the community.”

Modernizing the Library

 

The LAC, comprised of faculty, staff and student representatives, recognized the need to modernize Olivet’s library and was influential in adopting the learning commons model. It includes such elements as enclosed rooms for small group meetings, casual style seating and an enhanced café, technology upgrades, private and collaborative learning spaces and added social space.

“With the means of information delivery constantly evolving over the years, the state of libraries has vastly changed,” said Karen Chaney, Ph.D., associate dean of academic affairs. “For this, libraries have had to adjust in order to meet the demands of today’s students and patrons.”

Although the learning commons model is not a new concept, it’s one that makes sense for Olivet – a place that prides itself on personal interaction and collaboration. The college is adopting the format in order to foster engagement, such as students working together on small group projects, even further.

And better facilitating the learning and study habits of students is what it’s all about. Interestingly, 92 percent of Olivet College students surveyed (out of 600 in 2012) said the library, prior to renovations, was a good place to study. According to Chaney, the goal is to make that number 100 percent.

New Technology

In strides toward enhancing the student experience, the commons is completely equipped with advanced technology, and students have access to large digital screens on which they can share their work with others. Seating is flexible and casual: like walking into your favorite corner-street coffee house. A remodeled café is available in the commons, where students can take their cup of earl grey to a quiet corner to work or converse with others.

“The new Library Learning Commons is an excellent addition to Olivet College,” said LAC member Patrick Fields, Ph.D., associate professor of biology. “It will open up new opportunities for students doing group work and projects. So many of our folks are ‘night owls’ and this will be a great, safe place to work late into the night, and having an ITS presence on site will help many students.”

The LAC weren’t the only ones who looked forward to the transformation, perhaps the most excited are the students – who depend on Burrage Library for academic and social needs alike.

“I think it’s going to be wonderful to upgrade,” said senior Emily Tierney. “As an English major, I find myself in the library quite frequently. It will be great to have the new technology and new areas to study.”

A Bright Future

So picture if you will, a student rushing by without a sound – an inaudible jog to a quiet corner that still has a seat available. Near ITS’ station, two students converse about Romantic writer John Keats, and how professor of humanities Kirk Hendershott-Kraetzer knows too much about dead poets.

The conversation picks up. More chatter, more exchanging of thoughts and ideas. A caramel latte is sipped by a 20-year-old sophomore – she lays the coffee back down on the center table and smiles at a friend nearby. Students work with confidence and quick fingers on laptops, trying to digest an answer to assistant professor Ross Bohm’s impossible math equation.

Can you see the change?

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