The Learning Commons
Developing a 21st century library at PUC
For the first time since 1958, Pacific Union College’s Nelson Memorial Library has received a major renovation — not only aesthetically, but also in the way it functions as a learning center. As the main form of knowledge transitions from books to electronic media and from individual study to collaborative learning, PUC is taking steps to ensure that its resource center has made the leap into the 21st century.
The new floor plan features a bright and open space, illuminated by abundant natural light and spacious seating areas for individual and group study. It also includes a pair of glass-walled private rooms that larger groups of students can reserve for study sessions and collaborative projects.
New study tables dominate the room facing the campus mall, each wired with dozens of electrical outlets to accommodate students who take their computers to go. For those who don’t, the computer lab on the main floor has also been expanded, with a new fleet of Apple computers to supplement the existing PCs available for public use.
The floor is equipped with all new furniture, including mobile individual desks, a unique curved sofa installed with more power outlets, an inviting lounge area in the foyer, and a new circulation desk that enhances not only the look of the lobby, but also the accessibility for wheelchair-bound guests.
The biggest change in library function, of course, was the rise of Internet, database and computer technology as a dominant means to store and transmit knowledge. Before the mid-'90s, the most vital practical concern of managing a library was having the space to store all the books. That need is rapidly declining in importance, replaced by a need for better access to online resources.
“The resource has shifted from print to electronic. So what has that changed?” says library director Adu Worku. “There has been a perception that since the Internet is here and you can Google, why are libraries relevant anymore? They are relevant for the same reason they have always been relevant — they are a resource center and an access point.”
The electronic factor has two implications in PUC’s library — providing better resources, and providing opportunities for students to use their own resources. That means plenty of well-equipped computer workstations. It means subscriptions to hundreds of databases of research archives and peer-reviewed journals online. It means a team of librarians trained to help students find and select the most relevant and accurate information from the dross that can be found on the web.
It also means wall-to-wall Wi-Fi accessibility and the now-ubiquitous power outlets for students using laptops and tablet computers. Before the renovation, such students often had to scramble to find an available outlet. “Now it’s much more convenient for students,” says academic dean Nancy Lecourt, who oversaw the planning stages of the project.
But the technological aspect of learning is not the only thing that has changed in recent years. Concurrent with the rise of Internet technology, the education world has seen a shift from the traditional lecture-based approach to a model based on student collaboration with their professors and with each other.
Many educators describe the benefits of this approach — better learning outcomes, improved knowledge retention, more creativity, and the development of cooperative skills vital in the modern workforce. For these reasons, colleges and universities across the country are changing their libraries from mere book depositories with carrels for individual study, to spaces that facilitate group learning and group work. This philosophy sees the contemporary educational library as something more — a learning commons.
“When done well, [collaboration] enhances the learning process,” says PUC communication professor Tammy McGuire, who teaches courses on group interaction. “According to studies done at Harvard and elsewhere, for example, learning groups score better on tests than those who study alone. And in the area of critical thinking, groups can bring a multitude of perspectives and ideas that lead to a richer, more nuanced survey of issues.”
“Working together in diverse groups helps students learn to solve problems as a team and sharpen their own understanding with serious listening,” says Lecourt. “The new learning commons in the library is meant to support and foster collaborative learning and prepare students for life and work in the 21st century.”
Since the completion of the library renovation, PUC students appear to be enjoying the changes. “Our door count compared to last year has shown a significant increase in students using the library,” Worku says. “We want to do a formal study to find out the students’ opinions, but anecdotally, people seem overwhelmingly pleased.”
“I love the new set up in the library. I think the design is very well done and easier to concentrate in,” says visual arts student Jasmine Kelley. “Ever since the library was redesigned, I’ve found myself in there a lot more, studying by myself or with others. It was a great idea to redo the library, and if I was a student in high school coming for academy days and saw this — I would want to attend.”
This renovation is just the first phase of a larger library overhaul. The second phase will have a greater impact on the physical structure of the library, connecting the main student space with the media services department, installing an elevator, and retrofitting the building for better earthquake stability. Tentative plans also call for the creation of spaces for several unique research resources the college owns, including the Walter Utt Center for Adventist History, the Pitcairn Island Study Center, and literary collections from several Adventist pioneers and scholars.
In addition to the library, President Heather J. Knight has also described plans to enhance classrooms across campus and expand the residence halls to keep pace with PUC’s continuously growing enrollment.
“As a Christian college, we’re called to be the model for best practices in higher education — to be excellent as a reflection of the excellence of Christ himself,” says Knight. “The library is an important part of that calling, and we can be truly proud of our new and improved academic resource. But we’re not done yet.”
For a gallery of more images of Nelson Memorial Library, visit puc.edu/renovation.