Library adds “flexible spaces”

Construction crews and library staff have spent a busy summer converting the second floor of the West Commons (2 West) into a more usable and productive space for students. Previous renovation projects led to big changes in the East and West Commons, including expanded study areas and Jazzman’s Café. The main purpose of this project was to provide more power and data connections in 2 West and create more spaces for collaborative work.

“We saw that once the East Commons filled up during high traffic periods, students moved up to 2 West. So we started the process a while back to make that space a more aesthetically pleasing as well as a more productive place for students and groups,” said Bob Fox, Associate Director for Library Administration and Public Services.

Throughout the planning and design stages, the library held open forums and discussion panels to gather student opinions on changes to be made in 2 West. Construction on the space began immediately after the spring semester and the area is expected to be reopened by the start of the fall semester, although some features will be updated during the semester.

One of the major themes of the redesign was to create defined, yet flexible spaces. Upon entrance into the 2 West area, one sees three rows of group and collaborative work spaces. These spaces are designed for a maximum of six people and are enclosed with semi-transparent screens, designed to give an open feeling to the surroundings yet still allowing groups to maintain a sense of privacy. Each group space features wired data and power ports, as well as a movable white-board.

In addition, the floor includes a lounge-like area for groups to meet and discuss ideas. Almost all of the furniture on the floor has been replaced based on student input, and nearly all of the pieces are movable. The balcony overlooking the presentation room will also be open for viewing.

“We used to have large ten-person tables that were rarely filled, and that’s why we decided to go for smaller tables and newer chairs,” Fox said.

The new space will have 40 fewer chairs than before, but Fox believes that more of the new chairs will be occupied under the new arrangement.

The most important change to the space is probably the proliferation of power ports, which were scarce on 2 West in the past. The new design also carves out space for group enclosures with docking stations and flat screen monitors to facilitate laptop usage. The design committee for the renovation chose not to purchase more desktop computers due to high maintenance costs.

Changing the lighting was another major focus in this project. Previously, the lights on 2 West were thin-tube fluorescent lights meant for bookshelves.

“They were long, narrow and harsh for studying,” Fox said.

They have been replaced by energy efficient lights that sense the ambient lighting and adjust appropriately to provide adequate lighting. Unfortunately, 2 West will not be fully renovated at the start of the fall semester.

“Because of the economy, vendors aren’t stocking large amounts of products and so a few parts are on back-order,” Fox said.

One of the features that will have to be completed during the fall semester is the group areas with docking stations.

In addition to renovating 2 West, the library also updated the equipment in the East Commons. All of the renovations were completed without state money, as the library’s budget was cut last year and is expected to be cut again.

“We were able to use the Technology Fee money to update our desktop computers. However all of the renovations were done using funds in the Price Gilbert endowment and through separate grants,” Fox said. He stressed that because state funds are unavailable, any future renovations will take several years to initiate.