From Stacks to Collaborative Learning Commons: Transforming Traditional Library Space with a Planned Infusion of Digital Technology

From Stacks to Collaborative Learning Commons: Transforming Traditional Library Space with a Planned Infusion of Digital Technology

Renee Drabier (University of North Texas Health Science Center – Fort Worth, USA) and Daniel E. Burgard (University of North Texas Health Science Center – Fort Worth, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4237-9.ch008


The University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) completed a project to transform traditional, print-centric library space into an open, technology-enabled learning commons. The library’s print collection was dramatically reduced to create a new Collaborative Learning Commons in areas formerly occupied by bookshelves. Removal of books, journals, and shelving was carefully planned based on the needs of students, researchers, and clinicians. Following the print collection reduction, the new physical commons development included changing walls, replacing flooring, adding electrical and network connections, installing advanced technology resources, and using innovative furnishings to promote collaboration. The major accomplishments of this project include repurposing of library space to serve modern health science student needs through the creation of vibrant meeting and workspaces, expansion of access to educational technologies, and increased access to library scholarly information resources via a significant investment in electronic resources.
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Setting The Stage

Numerous factors began to change the physical and philosophical landscape for libraries in the 1990s and 2000s. Academic libraries began to move away from being print warehouses and towards the idea of being common space for socialization, collaboration, and active learning (Ludwig, 2010). Similarly, changes in health education, institutional administrations, and the bibliographic world combined to create a “perfect storm” of forces which found their voice at UNTHSC and Lewis Library in 2009 and 2010. Library and IT staff along with UNTHSC administration responded to these forces with a bold plan to reshape library space and give the school a facility that would serve students and researchers well into the future.

The advent of electronic journals in the mid to late 1990s was a watershed event for all academic libraries and especially for health science ones. The extension of scholarly resource access beyond the building’s walls was embraced by health science libraries eager to serve their research and clinical patrons in the user’s location of choice. Much like other libraries, Lewis Library began to supplement its print journal subscriptions with electronic versions whenever possible. This practice was soon supplemented by the cancellation of print titles to save both money and space. From its high point of nearly 2000 print journal subscriptions, Lewis Library’s print subscriptions had been reduced to approximately 50 by 2009.

As print journal subscriptions were cancelled and access to electronic journals was greatly expanded, use of the remaining print journals dwindled as the volumes became older and less relevant to biomedical researchers and clinicians. Information currency is of vital importance to health researchers and clinicians. In what became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, the use of Lewis Library’s remaining print journal collection dwindled to virtually nothing as the collection’s intellectual content aged.

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