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Learning Libraries

Information and culture creation and sharing between individuals, groups and societies is reshaping due to the emergence of social networking, peer production, and non-market authors over the internet and by other technological means. The generation that has grown up with the internet values information consumption, sharing, creation and distribution in a way that directly contradicts with the traditional higher education assumptions about learning.

Libraries need to understand that they need to serve as space and resource providers that foster social interaction in physical and virtual learning spaces (Somerville & Collins, 2008). When redesigning the library one needs to have in mind that the Net Generation values engagement expressed through interactive teamwork, that learning is a remarkable social process, which occurs because of social framework that fosters learning (Brown and Duguid, 2000). Redesigning the libraries as a learning commons will bring people together not around informally shared interests but around shared learning tasks. While in information commons, the core activity is manipulation and mastery of information, in learning commons the core activity is the collaborative processes among students that turn information into knowledge through social interaction (Somerville & Collins, 2008). In his essay Libraries designed for learning Scott Bennett, Yale University Librarian Emeritus, states that learning commons must be owned by learners, must be capable of accommodating frequently changing tasks that students define for themselves rather than the information-management tasks defined and taught by library or academic computing staff. Learning commons will need to provide food service to maintain the strong connection of food and dialogue.

Information commons, learning commons and learning spaces have developed within the libraries because as Freeman, (2005) states the academic library as place holds a unique position on campus since no other building can so symbolically and physically represent the academic heart of an institution. Libraries are fundamentally about people, about how they learn, how they use information, and how they participate in the life of a learning community (Demas, 2005). When libraries realize this, they must move from information commons to learning commons which enable knowledge creation through cross-disciplinary, cross-campus, and cross-functional collaboration.

The library project designer for the Princeton’s Gehry Library noted that libraries are becoming more a space where people come to access data, and also more of a study space, research space and to some extent, a social space. The print collections represented in this library are stored in a small high-density storage space in the basement. The reasoning behind this is that information takes on electronic rather than on print form. One can find some reference books and printed journals at the entrance but otherwise the minute one enters the library one is absorbed in the new role of the building. The information desk is positioned in a way that invites consultation with librarians, while upstairs, students can find three levels of amazing light-filled study space. Other academic libraries that have not done any projects toward building user-centered spaces should worry about the silence gathering around their book stacks.

Dewey, Barbara I. (2008). Social, Intellectual, and Cultural Spaces: Creating Compelling Library Environments for the Digital Age. Journal of Library Administration, 48 (1), 85-94. Retrieved August 03, 2009, from

Somerville, Mary M. and Collins, Lydia. (2008). Collaborative design: a learner-centered library planning approach. The Electronic Library, 26 (6), 803-820. Retrieved August 03, 2009,

Demas, S. (2005). From the ashes of Alexandria: what's happening in the college library? Library as Place: Retinking Roles, Retinking Space, Council on Library and Information Resources, Washington, DC, available at:

Freeman, G.T. (2005). The library as place: changes in learning patterns, collections, technology, and use, Library as Place: Retinking Roles, Retinking Space, Council on Library and Information Resources, Washington, DC, available at:


  1. It seems the focus is on libraries as place but is is it necessary to spend millions of dollars on space, when budgets are shrinking in comparison to the inflation of materials budgets? If we get students in the library do they make use of the materials and become better searchers and by extension better students?

  2. Schools with big donors obviously can afford to spend millions of dollars for building new libraries or other facilities. This is Princeton and I do not think they have any budget problems. As for the students, I do not know if they become better students or not, but I know they are happy to have that kind of space for use. At the library where I work we had to make a plan for incorporating a bigger space for Information commons just because the students were asking for it. We are not building a new library, but we are redesigning the one we have and moving things around, merging departments to have the first floor almost completely designed as user-centered.

  3. I know at the community college where I work we are making small steps to create more user-centered space.

  4. Great analysis here! I don’t know if better spaces make better students, but if a better space encourages students to use the library more frequently, then I am all for it.

  5. I fear academic libraries are becoming too much like public libraries—providers of entertainment and “consumer” information. Remember, when college students meet, they tend to play rather than study. That is what I appreciate about university libraries—serious, quite research and learning amongst books. In this case, the books are stuck in the basement and serious learning is replaced with social interaction. If you want to give a computer commons to the students, fine, but let’s keep some space for good old fashion study.
    --- Robin Robinson

  6. Are there study spaces in this library that are contemplative, virtually silent spaces. As libraries move into more social environments, the traditional aspect of the library as a scholar's refuge should not be lost.

  7. This is a good point about the changing role of academic libraries. It seems like bookstores are becoming more like traditional libraries, while libraries evolve into the new version of the student center, where people gather to socialize as well as learn.

    It's a costly way to attract students, but I'm all for it. Perhaps the increased usage, as quantified by computer records or even by records of how many people pass in and out the doors, could lead to increases or reallocations in funding.

  8. I can't really complain with the direction in which libraries are going. The fact that the students get into the library means that the kids at least have a chance of stumbling upon a book or journal that they are interested in. If the library is uninviting, the casual reader is not going to suddenly get the urge to peruse the stacks on their days off. Just saying that I'm willing to take a short term hit on collection, because if user numbers go up from being a comfortable place for students to go, then you are going to be able to justify a proposal for increased funding to your board or whatever controlling body you answer to.

  9. I really like Brenda's comment about traditional an academic libraries. These renovations are costly, but the benefits is that these libraries are more inviting. Enhancing the experience to allow for social interactions is the new library. - Although I'm very happy to be in the quiet areas when I need to study.

  10. What a beautiful space and a wonderful architect. The design continues with the concept that libraries are places that offer space for collaboration (with coffee and food to encourage social interaction) and resources for accessing data (as opposed to information.) The library as you described recognizes that it is serving the Net generation. It is promising for me to read that the libraries are encouraging socialization with group spaces and not just becoming places where individuals just plug in and connect virtually.


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