Category Archives: Spaces

Upgrading the Fives

“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”

So said Confucius.

We take that sentiment and the suggestions of our users to heart – for the sake of happiness and wisdom, among other things – especially over the summer break when there’s time and space to do so. Such was the case again this summer, and now later this fall, there will be a unveiling celebrations to mark the changes to pair of library spaces.

The less prominent of the two renovation projects occurred in the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL), and is the extension to an earlier project that took place on the library’s most popular floor. The Collaborative Commons is the bustling hub of late hours study and community on the fifth level of the building that is designated for noise and activity that isn’t traditionally associated with the pastoral atmosphere of a library.

In 2013, a section spanning the length of the window wall on the fifth floor overlooking the heart of campus was renovated to include open-area technology access, additional power outlets, a forest of mobile whiteboards and comfortable, flexible furniture. What was formerly a dull and dank monotony became the Collaborative Commons and has remained a popular gathering area for PCL denizens. The current project connects the original renovation to an even larger area on the opposite side of the building to further expand technology and utility access, and to replace the ancient monolithic furniture of a bygone era and carpet so aged and experienced that it bears no further mention in good company.

The second space refresh came out of a renewed affection for libraries that was manifested as a student and faculty protest about the removal of books from the Fine Arts Library (FAL). Surfaced during the discussions of how best to serve the community of the College of Fine Arts and users of the FAL were critiques of the current state of the fifth floor of that library where the physical collections are housed. That input and some extensive discussions with CoFA community stakeholders resulted in a punch list of improvements that would make it a more productive and usable space. Now, visitors to the fifth floor at FAL have space for (and eventual access to) additional physical materials, enhanced Wi-Fi performance, more access to power outlets, better furniture, new carrels and the fresher feel that results from new paint and the removal of 40-year-old carpeting.

Judging from the initial reactions to the changes, we’ve met the first criterion of the Confucian aphorism. Only time will tell if we manage the second.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit the updated spaces yet, there will be a couple of opportunities to see them as part of upcoming housewarming events hosted by the Libraries with Provost Maurie McInnis, who’s office helped to fund the efforts. Join us Tuesday, October 23, to fête the Fine Arts Library refresh, and Wednesday, November 14, for a party on fifth floor of the PCL.

 

Why Austin’s new Central Library is a vision for the future

This commentary originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, Wednesday, December 06, 2017.

The Austin Public Library recently opened its spectacular facility with much fanfare to respond to a diversity of needs in the Austin community. Transformed from a traditional library filled with books and other sources of information including media, the new open design sets itself apart as a new standard to address user needs in the 21st century. The timing of the opening of the new Austin Pubic Library is a perfect opportunity to highlight the resurgence of the central role of libraries in their respective communities, whether public, academic or school libraries, as they rethink their relevance amidst fast-paced changes.

Opening of the Austin Central Library

In an information society like ours, libraries are critical to fill equity gaps in society by democratizing access to information, education, skills training and job placement. Simply put, the Austin Public Library epitomizes how libraries elsewhere can be improved to better serve their populations.

The strength of libraries is, after all, their relationship to their communities, whether public or academic. They are centers of learning, social gathering and creativity usually in central spaces, a premium in most communities and on university campuses. The Austin Public Library has not disappointed. In some respects, it is the library of the future and will meet a multitude of needs including shared learning spaces, the technology petting zoo, the innovation lounge, the children’s creative commons and the reading porches.

In a nutshell, libraries must rebrand themselves as technology-rich learning centers. The rapid rate of technological changes, coupled with new user expectations, have accelerated libraries’ transition from mediated services to unmediated services. From online catalogs, to self-checkout machines, to room reservations and laptop checkouts, users can now independently use and reserve library resources that extend well beyond books. And, the old rules don’t work in the new environment. For instance, food and drink, cafes and gift shops have become normal features in libraries.

Makerspace at the Austin Central Library.

Notwithstanding the difference in the primary communities they serve, different types of libraries have implemented changes that are consistent with new needs and expectations. At its opening, Austin Mayor Steve Adler described the Austin Public Library as the “cathedral of Austin.”

A national conference called “Re-think it: Libraries for a New Age” will soon bring together academic, public and K-12 librarians, administrators, technologists, architects, designers, furniture manufacturers and educators to the University of Texas. Together, they will collectively rethink the increasingly important role libraries play in the communities they serve.

Austin Central Library.

In some ways, rethinking libraries will mean collapsing old paradigms and sacrificing some of the nostalgia that we may have for paper and silence. If libraries are to realize a future potential, they’ll need to play a significantly more active role in creativity and productivity processes. The library is no longer a place to worship books; rather, a library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, is the delivery room for the birth of ideas.

Austin isn’t the first city in recent years to invest in new library construction. Structures in Seattle and Minneapolis are notable recent examples of significant public reinvestment in libraries as an integral part of the community. The 21st century offers a renaissance period for libraries and library professionals to imagine the possibilities for the future. The Austin Public Library exemplifies a pioneering model in Texas for other municipalities to position their libraries as instruments of social empowerment. The time is now.

 

 

 

The library of the future starts with infrastructure

This commentary appeared in the Houston Chronicle, August 26, 2017.

Ask what the campus library does and many will say, “It provides access to books.” Looking toward the future, if libraries are to succeed, they will need to increase investment in services that extend beyond such user assumptions. Libraries should invest in virtual spaces that complement existing technology, unique collections, and content expertise, and library space as a concept will need to be redefined to accommodate work in new arenas.

In a 2015 AACU survey employers reported that they believe only 27 percent of recent graduates are proficient at written communication and even fewer are “innovative/creative”. When thinking about this in concert with student impressions of campus technology in a 2016 ECAR study, the library must contribute to both creative and deepened use of technology in the classroom. Leading students into virtual environments to create research products, utilizing classrooms designed with multiple screens for active small group work, and helping students manage work with the use of project management tools all present opportunities for rich collaborative teaching partnerships between librarians and faculty.

It’s also important for libraries to invest in infrastructure to support web publishing platforms, virtual reality, makerspaces, and large visualization walls that complement existing university resources. Integrating these technologies into the classroom experience will challenge us all to think in new ways about where and how learning occurs. Libraries can provide support to students and teachers as they engage with, critically examine, and build community in and around these spaces. But in order for this to occur, a shift in the way people conceptualize library spaces and services has to occur. By working in new environments, libraries can help students improve communication and develop critical thinking and digital literacy skills that will serve them in all areas of their lives.

In order for us to be successful, campus level administrators have to provide a seat at the executive table for library leadership. Increasing the visibility of challenges being faced by libraries sheds light on the complexity of our current operating environments. Sharing information about the value of library services, and about staffing and IT infrastructure needs, provides an opportunity for those that are invested in the library to ask questions about future directions and provide input on anticipated needs.

Libraries are increasingly becoming key testing grounds for innovative classes and research projects that take advantage of emerging technologies. Administration can demonstrate support for these innovative faculty-library collaborations by providing financial, administrative, and moral support for departments that are attempting to reinvigorate the curriculum. Libraries are not operating in the same way that they were five years ago, and it is imperative that administrators see and fully understand the ways in which our services are evolving, and the ways in which our services provide pathways for new ways of teaching and learning.

Library leaders, similarly, need to fully understand the challenges faced by library staff as they revise organizational and operational models to accommodate new working environments. By providing services in hybrid environments, libraries are demonstrating their capacity to play a key partner role in the teaching and learning process in higher education. This role can advance the critical inquiry and discourse skills of our students, and can contribute to student success post-graduation.

So much of what we think about when we think about our students after graduation is focused on success in the workplace, but at a higher level, many in academic communities are concerned with the development and evolution of civil society. As we expand library services more and more into virtual spaces, we will increasingly ask our communities to redefine their understanding and expectations of our role in developing capacity to engage in dialogue. By investing in the changing landscape of libraries, we are also inviting them to adapt to the ever-evolving landscape of communication and civic engagement.

Amber Welch is the head of technology enhanced learning for The University of Texas Libraries.

 

 

 

Data Lab Coming to PCL

Conceptual Gears.

A new lab is coming to PCL as part of the Scholars Commons, opening in January 2016. The Data Lab will have 15 dual-boot iMacs capable of running Windows and Mac OS. Based on the results of a campus-wide survey of graduate students and faculty conducted last spring, the pilot lab will have software for statistical analysis, data visualization, and text encoding. Users will also have access to a UT Libraries-installed instance of Omeka and other web-based tools for digital scholarship. In addition to the new types of software, look for workshops on digital scholarship tools and methods throughout the spring semester.

The Data Lab will be a pilot space. We’re especially interested in your feedback about what works and what doesn’t so that we can provide the software that you need.

Software available in the Data Lab will include:

  • Adobe Creative Suite 6
  • Autodesk Design Suite (free educational version)
  • NVivo
  • Omeka
  • Oxygen XML
  • R
  • SAS
  • SPSS
  • Stata/MP
  • Sublime Text
  • Tableau Public

The lab will also offer standard office productivity apps.

The Scholars Commons, located on the entry of level of PCL, will offer silent study space to facilitate studying, space exclusively for graduate students to take a break, refresh, or meet with a group of colleagues and a Data Lab.

Have a project or idea that you think might be a perfect match for the Data Lab? Let us know! Contact Jenifer Flaxbart.