Friday, November 28, 2008

Flip Camcorders in the Commons

I just read the EDUCAUSE "7 things you should know about" report on flip camcorders. If you haven't looked at the "7 things" reports before, they are excellent at giving you a very quick overview of a hot topic or technology. Basically the flip camcorder is a very portable, inexpensive video camera that opens up capturing video to anyone, not just experts or those with pricey equipment.

Imagine the possibilities for your students--or even for us, as we develop more creative projects in the library. I know we couldn't have done this video with a flip camcorder, but it does make creating similar projects much simpler, especially if you aren't fortunate to have the support of a creative team of experts.

About a year ago, at the Hub we investigated types of equipment that circulate at other information commons. Alice compiled some interesting findings--from the more predictable (headphones, cameras, graphing calculators, and so on) to the more unusual (GPS devices, video game consoles, webcams.) In an excellent webcast last week on the commons (it is archived), Crit Stewart mentioned students at Georgia Tech might check out a webcam in order to host a virtual tutoring session in the library. A specific example was a student who checked out a webcam and used it, a commons computer, and a whiteboard to tutor one student on site and another via the web. What a clever and relatively simple item to offer for checkout.

I know I would like to see us offer more technology items for checkout. I see so many possibilities with flip camcorders, webcams, and more.

Students Enjoying New Lab Furniture

2008 October Hub 031
Originally uploaded by thehubatwts
I wrote a bit about the new furniture in the Hub's computer lab area when it arrived in October. I've been observing its use since then and have been delighted to see how much use these "booths" are getting. While they aren't wheeled (my mantra is usually "everything on wheels!"), they are still enormously popular. (I'm not sure if a wheeled couch is the best idea anyway.) Even on a quiet morning, someone is usually cozied up in one of these "booths" in the lab. Now that's good furniture.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Blogging Woes

So I pay attention to my blog's stats regularly via Stat Counter and Google Analytics. I occasionally check out my Technorati rating. But for some reason, it did not occur to me to periodically search for my blog. I happened to search for it last night and realized it wasn't indexed by Google. At all.

OK, that's pretty strange. So I started looking in my code and found some meta tags that were set to no indexing. Huh? Why would anyone have a blog and not want it indexed? What would be the point?

Best I can figure, the bad code came from a free third-party template I had been using. So I quickly chucked the whole template to be safe and went back to one of the simple Blogger templates. I figure I'll stay with that until I have more time to devote to the project.

Now I know that the real answer here should be to abandon Blogger entirely, set up WordPress, and actually host the blog from my domain ( instead of simply redirecting. I also know I should invest in a real template, something more professional looking. I know enough about style sheets that I could probably design something myself that didn't look too terrible. I'm not sure when I will have time for all of that.

In the meantime, dear readers, I'm glad you found me. You probably didn't via a search engine! And if you weren't already, do a search periodically for your blog/website. Otherwise you might be as lost as I was.

I'd better wrap this up. My husband has pointed out that I have spent entirely too much time on my blog today. The parade is still sitting on the Tivo, unwatched, and I have sweet potatoes to peel. But I did want to share this with you, dear readers, so that such a thing might never happen to you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Get your study on . . . SOON!

It's likely that your library is as quiet as mine is today. Our students start fall break tomorrow to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday, so many have already left campus for the week. Unbelievably finals are less than three weeks away. Where did the semester go? Here is a previous semester photo of the student whiteboard--someone reminds her fellow students that it's time to get your study on...soon! Indeed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

What's in a Name?

Recently the information commons/learning commons discussion came up again on a commons-related discussion list. I understand both terms and sort of see the nuances that distinguish one from the other, but I personally see it as hair-splitting and don't find it all that important to attempt to differentiate between the two. My commons is labeled an information commons, but we are concerned with learning outcomes and we partner with learning-focused campus groups. So then we should be a learning commons instead?

And actually (this is the part I find much more interesting), on campus we aren't labeled information commons or learning commons at all. From reading this blog, you are probably well aware that we are the Hub.

We did this for several reasons. One was that we knew we'd have to market and explain any name we gave the space. What really does information commons or learning commons mean to a first year student? Another reason is that we wouldn't be the only Commons on campus. The food court near our residence halls is called The Commons. One of the large apartment complexes near campus is named The Commons. If we went with a "commons" name, we'd already be competing with two well-known entities. So as a result, we knew it would be best to avoid "commons" entirely.

We conducted some student focus groups to help us select a name. Ultimately we weren't able to use our first choice of name (ask me sometime), but we did choose "the Hub" based on student comments. The name fits us very well: our service desk resides at the center of the building in a rotunda--literally "the hub." We are striving for a hub of excitement, activity, and engagement. There is the obvious networking hardware connection. It's easy to riff on the name--our vending space is "Grub @ the Hub," our big freshman party was called "the Hubbub," and so on. And of course, the name is short and easy to remember.

I do find that when talking with library colleagues, I refer our space as an "information commons" as "the Hub" really has no meaning off campus. But the exciting part, and the part I've been working on for nearly two years, is that "the Hub" has a great deal of meaning on campus. Increasingly the campus community refers to the entire basement of the Young Library as the Hub, so it is definitely catching on. More and more students on campus recognize the Hub as the cool new place in the library. To me, that's when the name says it all.

Photo by Alice Wasielewski

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learning Spaces Conversation

This conversation about learning spaces from the 2008 EDUCAUSE Conference is well worth a listen. Participants in this 35 minute podcast:
  • Joan Lippincott, Associate Executive Director, Coalition for Networked Information
  • Clare C. van den Blink, Assistant Director, Academic Technology Services & User Support, CIT, Cornell University
  • Martin Lewis, Director of Library Services & University Librarian, Sheffield University, UK
  • Crit Stuart, Director, Research Teaching and Learning, Association of Research Libraries
  • Lauren Brady, IT Space Coordinator, Missouri University of Science and Technology
The speakers discuss some common issues that are familiar to many of us, but they also offer new ideas and left me with more things to think on further. I've summarized a few themes from the podcast with my own comments:

Beautiful spaces alone won't do it. We should know this already. Pretty furniture and new paint don't make the commons. Services do, people do.

Beautiful spaces are nonetheless an important part of it. This includes aspects like a good location, a view (thank goodness we have video windows), food, comfortable furniture that can easily be rearranged. We hear this often, I say this often, and it's true: everything should be on wheels. More importantly, we should not create a space based solely on our experience or our desires--to be successful, you have to involve students in your ongoing design process. This leads into my next point...

Big people don't necessarily know what students need or how they work. (Some of my colleagues refer to ourselves as "the big people." I suppose there are worse ways to generalize the non-student population.) Anyway, "the big people" need to get out more often and talk to students. Talk to front line staff, particularly student assistants. Student assistants can give you two perspectives: as an employee but also as a student user of the space. Listen to what they say, consider their suggestions. In addition to talking with students, simply observe the space in use. And don't observe 8 am - 5 pm. Too often "the big people" make that mistake. I cover night shifts here and there during the semester, but I also make it a point to visit at night during dead week/finals week to see how things are working during peak usage.

These are just a few of the things I've been thinking about since listening to the podcast. So go ahead, check it out!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Millennials Relying Less on Traditional IT Support

ReadWriteWeb reports on a study of millennials and their technology support preferences. The study finds that millennials are increasingly supporting their own technology needs at work, in fact often going around the IT department. More than one third of those surveyed indicated that they were dissatisfied with workplace technology offerings. This is particularly true of millennial employees using social software applications, and over 25% of those surveyed use these technolgies without support and even against company policy. And as far as IT policy:
A staggering 60% of the employees surveyed by Accenture argue that they are unaware of their companies' IT policies or that they are simply not interested in following them.
We're already seeing this on our campuses as students turn to Gmail over campus systems (or even avoid email altogether in favor of texting or Facebooking). What we support and how we support it will have to change in order to better meet student desires.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Student Input on Library Workspaces

The current issue of EDUCAUSE Quarterly includes an article about student input in developing learning commons spaces, Learning Curve: Adapting Library Workspaces, by James C. Haug. I think student input is essential--after all, why else are we here? Haug writes about Longwood University which sought input from students regarding their new information commons space, focusing on two themes:
Do students like the new learning spaces? Do students view the changes as positive or negative, as evidenced by survey results and increased usage?

What other changes would maximize learning in the new library spaces? Would additional strategies, logistical arrangements, or other amenities improve learning in the new information commons/collaborative workstation areas?
He implemented a five-phase research process consisting of a focus group and a survey. Their students must be pretty happy, as over 75% of those surveyed were satisfited with privacy/noise, lighting levels, screen size, table work space, and chair comfort. Interestingly, they were most dissatisfied (63%) with the color of the fabric coverings on partitions. Perhaps this is a lesson to include students in future interior design discussions!

In analyzing the survey data, the library developed some recommendations based on the student input, including acquiring additional whiteboards, monitors, and chairs as budget permits. Other recommendations involved addressing noise issues, food policy, and signage.

Read the entire article from EDUCAUSE Quarterly.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How do you know if your commons is a campus hot spot?

I've been struggling with this for awhile. I've always said I want the Hub to be like K-Lair or POT or any number of things on campus that people clearly recognize by name. I would like every student on campus to at least know what the Hub is and what we can do for them. A lofty goal, I know.

Occasionally I'll chat with a student in a restaurant or at the mall and mention the Hub. Nearly always, they say "oh yeah, I've been there" or "I like working down there" or at least "yeah, I saw it on a tour." But at least they know what it is.

Last weekend I decided I must be doing something right. I hosted the UK Parents Advisory Council meeting in the Hub. Some of the parents commented that they already knew what the Hub was as their students had mentioned it to them. Wow. For a number of reasons, I am so glad I hosted the parents in the Hub. I've mentioned it on several occasions, and I'll say it again: it is so important to work with your Student Affairs office on campus. Work together on an joint event, promote their events, do whatever you can to help them and you'll be better for it.

Images are from the 2008 Hubbub.

Five Benefits of the Information Commons

Most of you have probably already seen today's post from Michael Stephens on the ALA TechSource blog, A "Commons" Experience: Five Benefits of the Information Commons. I couldn't agree more with these statements:
The Commons puts students at the center.
The Commons is built with student involvement.
The Commons is a welcoming, useful gathering place.
The Commons makes connections.
The Commons is a relevant, required space on campus.
Even if we aren't entirely there yet, these are certainly worthy goals. Read the entire post on the ALA TechSource blog.

Commons-Related Webcast Friday

Friday's EDUCAUSE Live webcast will feature Crit Stewart discussing A Space of One’s Own: Learning Environments Derived from User-Centered Discovery Techniques. From the summary:

Academic libraries are committed to delivering new or improved learning spaces for students. Information/learning commons are de rigueur for libraries seeking to refresh and deepen their engagements with undergraduate learners. The most noteworthy learning environments provide enhanced productivity capacities; exposure to collections and digital information; skills training for knowledge creation; and development of information, verbal, written, and multimedia fluencies.

Link to register now for this free professional development opportunity.

Kentucky Librarians Blogging

Last week I attended the Kentucky Convergence Conference. This has become one of my favorite area conferences as it is focused on higher education IT, instructional technologies, and libraries. The programming is similar to what yo might find at an EDUCAUSE conference, albeit on a much smaller scale. I think Convergence is one of the best conferences for higher ed in the state and would like to see more librarians participate.

Anyway, at the conference I was talking with a few librarians from another institution and realized that I have no idea who blogs at other Kentucky schools. I'd be interested in following all the blogs of my higher ed or library colleagues. But since we really aren't well-known bloggers, it can be hard to find us. I realized that I could only name a few Kentucky bloggers, but I know there must be many of us.

So with that in mind, I've created a wiki of Kentucky Library-Related Blogs. Please add to the wiki and encourage others to do so. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Commons-Related EDUCAUSE Conference Presentations

For those who may have missed the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference last month, presentation materials are being posted daily to the EDUCAUSE Connect library. I attended the conference in 2003 and have been trying to return ever since. Of all the conferences I've attended, it was probably the best fit for me--then as the manager of desktop support services for the library system and now as the head of our campus information commons. Here's just a sampling of this year's presentations:
A Planning Process for Successful Learning/Information Commons. When we were planning our commons, it would have been so helpful to have this information from Crit Stewart, Joan Lippincott, and Malcom Brown. Thinking about Phase II of our project, I did find several takeaways from the Involving the Campus Community document in particular.

Emerging Learning Spaces. Presentation from Crit Stewart, AJ Kelton, and Joan Lippincott. Slides are pretty informative and are complemented with lots of images. Interesting to note that Second Life is one of the examples of an emerging learning space.

Bringing the Information Commons Home. Excellent overview of the commons at the University of Sheffield. Slides are full of vivid images--fun and interesting and definitely worth a look.

Library Lightning Round. I haven't read all of these materials yet but looks like there is some good stuff here, particularly the presentation on building a research commons. We've been increasingly talking about a research commons here at UK, and I suspect that IU will be one of our models, as they were when we began planning our undergraduate information commons.

Have MLS, Will Travel: How We Got Out of the Library and into Academic IT. This isn't really commons-related but I threw it in because it caught my eye (I've repeatedly been accused of wanting to defect to "the other side") I wish the slides had more information--it really looked like a fun and interesting presentation.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What is Common about Learning Commons?

In addition to reading The Tower and the Cloud, I've been looking at The Desk and Beyond: Next Generation Reference Services. The first essay by Tim Daniels and Caroline Cason Barratt, "What is Common about Learning Commons," discusses a survey the authors conducted. They received 147 responses to the survey which consisted of seventeen commons-related questions.

I encourage you to check out the full article as I shouldn't summarize all of their interesting findings here. Thinking about my own experience, I had to comment on at least a couple of things. Several of the responses surprised me a bit, particularly in the response to the challenges facing the learning commons. Respondents could indicate more than one category in this area:
Challenges in the Learning Commons
27.7% Clashing philosophies among partners
19.7% Increased noise
16.1% Funding facility/training
13.9% Increased traffic
7.3% Loss of library identity
6.6% Clashing philosophies among librarians
My first impression is that I once again realize how fortunate we are to have a friendly, productive relationship with IT. I know I've said it on this blog and you've probably heard me say it a dozen times if you've seen me give a presentation, but effective collaborations are key to a successful commons. Seeing that 27.7% of the respondents cite clashing philosophies with partners (and I'm guessing more often than not, partners like IT), reminds me how lucky we are that both groups here feel comfortable communicating and even criticizing constructively when needed.

I have to wonder how increased traffic could be considered a challenge. Yes I realize that respondents were probably thinking in terms of lines of people waiting for help, computers, chairs, and other resources. That is a challenge. I still think that's in the "good problem to have" category. I also think that about noise, but I suspect I'm in a minority there.

Funding and training are rather obvious issues. What surprises me here is that 100% of us didn't check that box.

All of these issues center around change, but I think loss of identity and a clash of philosophies among librarians could particularly be attributed to a fear of change. I realize that's not always the case, but it does concern me to hear about resistance to bringing in campus partners like IT (there's that loss of identity) and fighting internally over losing battles like food policy (there's those clashing philosophies among librarians).

What other challenges are we facing in the commons environment?