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Envisioning the New Library: Students' Perspective
by Ralph Alberico

The library structure rising up on top of a hill among the trees in Higgs Grove is an imposing new addition to the eastern skyline of the campus.  Construction continues apace, with the building on schedule to be occupied by the end of March, 2008.  Inside the building drywall is being hung, tiles are being laid and there is even some painting going on.  The spaces within which students, faculty and staff will work and study and learn are beginning to take shape.  We are selecting furniture and equipment, and soon the procurement process for new equipment and technology will begin.


New Library interior under construction
East Campus Library interior under construction.

Technology in the new building will be pervasive.  Technology, from wireless connectivity to flat panel displays to specialized software, will help to define the way students and faculty interact with the campus information environment and with one another.  Because technology changes so quickly, we are delaying decisions on specific equipment until shortly before the building opens. 


Currently, we are planning to move collections and to acquire online collections that will replace physical collections whenever possible.  We are exploring new methods for coordinating the work done by Libraries and Educational Technologies staff.  Several staff members currently in Carrier Library will be moving. Recruiting has already started for additional full and part-time positions needed to provide library, educational technology, and faculty development services in the new building.  Because new building provides an opportunity to reconsider the ways in which services are offered in all of our library facilities, we are discussing new service models (see article).  Fundamental changes to the way students and faculty experience our libraries are just over the horizon.

New Library third floor under construction
Third floor lobby.

To envision how the new East Campus Library will be used, I’ve created some student personas and drafted a set of scenarios for the kinds of experiences that typical students will have in the new building.


Emily lives in Potomac Hall, one of the freshman dorms near the new library.  The trip to the new library is a short walk for her, and in the evening she meets her friends and study partners, Sarah, Josh, Kim, Andre, and Tina there.  Emily is a sophomore Health Sciences major, as is Kim, who also lives in Potomac. Sarah and Josh are Business majors.  Andre and Tina are Psychology majors and both are in the Royal Dukes Marching Band.  ECL is the nickname they have given to the library, which is formally known as the East Campus Library.  They are not all science majors, but amenities of the library extend beyond its circulating collections in the sciences, located there to serve academic programs located on the east side of campus.  ECL has become a favorite destination for them. 


When it comes to libraries, Emily and her friends are nomadic.  ECL is their home base, but Sarah and Josh also spend a lot of time in Carrier Library where the business collections are located, and Andre and Tina often hang out in the Music Library.  Because many of the library resources that are Emily and her friends use available online, and because they have classes and meetings throughout the campus, the location of library collections is not the primary factor in determining which library they use. Each of the library facilities on campus has its own appeal for different students.  Also, they know they can request books from any of the libraries to be delivered to the library which is most convenient for them.  


Tina and Andre were on campus during the summer of 2008 and both were hired by the company the library used to move collections from the Carrier Library and the CISAT Library Service Center in the Health Sciences building.  They moved all of the books with the call numbers Q, R, S, and T, the ranges that cover the sciences.  It was interesting to see the way the movers left growth space to accommodate collection growth in different areas of the science.  Tina and Andre also helped to move DVDs, bound periodicals and other items. 


When the Fall 2008 semester began, Andre was hired to work in the Learning Commons on the first floor of the new building.  After attending a rigorous training program learning about the information resources and academic software available in the Learning Commons, he was able to hit the ground running.  He enjoys helping his peers and with more than 80 computers (including Macs and PCs) in the Learning Commons. He likes the feel of the Commons, full of students using the computers, consulting reference sources, working together in groups and honing their information and technology skills.  He can move easily from helping a fellow student use one of the general library databases to helping them put together a PowerPoint or an online video for a class presentation.  The training Andre received helps him recognize when he has reached the limits of his expertise, and should refer students to one of the librarians or technologists in the library for more in-depth assistance. 


Emily often starts the day with a cup of coffee in the café located in ECL.  She often ends the day in the 24-hour computer lab and study area which is accessible to JMU students with a swipe of their JMU ID card.  On more than one occasion Emily was up late at night finishing up a class project in the computer lab and 24-hour study space.


ECL has a combination of different kinds of spaces.  Part of its appeal is the views – all of the windows and the dramatic vistas to the west looking out over the old bluestone campus to the Alleghenies beyond.  When Emily is in the mood for peace and quiet she can always find a quiet spot on one of the upper floors in the stacks.  Or she can gravitate to “the wing” or to one of the comfortable chairs in the area they call the “tree house” that overlooks Higgs Grove.  If she wants, Emily can check out a book from the popular reading collections funded by supporters of the library.  On the third floor of the wing there is a large space where all of the furniture is on wheels.  The space is filled with tables, chairs, and rolling whiteboards.  Students are encouraged to reconfigure the room to suit their needs and habits.  It never looks the same two days in a row.


Emily has her own laptop but sometimes it is more convenient to check one out from the library and use it wirelessly or connect it to a port on a study table.  Emily, Josh and Kim like to use the group study rooms in the library to brainstorm ideas and work on their class projects.  They often bring laptops and use the large displays in some of the rooms to practice their presentations.  Sometimes they use the software in the Learning Commons to supplement their presentations with images, graphs, charts and video. 


Emily has attended instruction sessions in the hands-on classroom on the third floor of the library; these helped her understand the literature of her own subject field and gave her lots of insight on how to find and use the most appropriate and authoritative sources of information.  Sometimes she seeks more specialized assistance with the liaison librarian for Health Sciences.  Emily was able to find good information, get help, learn, study, work with her peers and use technology in a single convenient and comfortable place.


To be continued.  The next article will examine the East Campus Library from the perspective of a faculty member.


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