User-Centered Spaces: Part 1

This blog post is part of an assignment I am doing for my Reference Course for the Sciences disciplines. The purpose of the assignment is for us to pick a science-oriented library that has recently undergone a renovation to meet the needs of the users. So, I decided to discuss the recent learning commons renovations at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where I just completed my Spring practicum. In this post, I will introduce the learning commons at Georgia Tech and describe some of the highlights.

2 West Commons

2 West Commons

While I was interning, I met with Charlie Bennett, who is the Commons Coordinator at the library. Charlie is responsible for monitoring the commons, ensuring that it is functionally designed for user tasks (i.e. independent studying, group collaborations, etc.). He also gave me a tour of the Georgia Tech library commons area. The Commons actually consists of 3 areas: the east and west commons on the first floor (LEC and LWC respectively), and the newly renovated 2 West area on the second floor.


Library West Commons terminals

The LWC contains a wide space of desktop computers provided by the library. Whenever I was at the library, this area was always packed, and it was very difficult to get a computer.  There is a screen upon entering the library that shows which computers are in use (in red). Users can also go to the library website and see available terminals. Now, of course, since it is the summer and it is almost 11:30 PM (up late as usual!), many computers are green (but this is not the norm!).


The East Commons is a very interesting area of the library, and has a lot of innovative aspects. The area has a more modern and “hip” feel. It contains a cafe and vending machines (including ones that sell coffee), so users can get that extra bit of fuel to get through the school’s intense curriculum.  This space is also used for the campus film society to host events, as well as other campus-related exhibits.

This area is very focused on collaborative group work. It also contains computer stations with large monitors so multiple students can share a workspace, as well as a small DVD library.

Library East Commons

A key theme that Charlie wanted to focus on in this area is flexibility – to give the user control of how he/she utilizes the space. Thus, furniture is lightweight and easily movable.  One feature that the commons has serendipitously acquired was movable extension plugs that hang from the ceiling.  These were actually left by the electricians during the renovation, but Charlie decided to keep them so that laptop users were not restricted to areas where there was an outlet. I cannot tell you how many times I have been frustrated going into a Starbucks , bookstore, or other WiFi hotspot and not be able to use my laptop because all the seats near an outlet were taken. During long study hours, a laptop battery usually will not last.

Students even have flexibility over the lighting.  Charlie implemented RBG overhead lighting (similar to what is used in stage lighting), instead of fluorescent lighting. Students can customize the amounts of red, green, and blue in the lighting to something that is easier on their eyes.

2 West Commons

This area is located on the second floor. It is a very open workspace for collaborative projects. It contains large, restaurant-size booths and tables for study groups to meet, or for individual studiers to spread out (especially for the architecture students).  Collaborative work areas are partitioned by translucent screens to give the study groups a sense of solidarity without making the area seem too claustrophobic.  I have also seen students here utilize whiteboards to work on complex  math problems or tutor others.

What’s next?

In the next post, I will discuss my thoughts about the renovation and how these improvements have affected users.


8 Comments on “User-Centered Spaces: Part 1”

  1. Kristen Hackler says:

    I am intrigued by a few of the innovations, particularly the ability to manipulate the lights and the hanging plug-ins. I would love to actually see this and play with it a little bit.

    I do remember in my undergraduate days struggling with headaches after long study sessions (even with frequent breaks) just from the lack of light…or too much.

  2. Shannon Morrison says:

    This project is like looking through a window and seeing all the cool ways to make a library user center service.

  3. Emily VanLangen says:

    Wow, this library sounds amazing! I love that screen to see what computers are open. I also like the idea of having areas with large computer screens for group work. That is really helpful on a college campus. I can’t believe the flexibility in the plugs and the lighting. I have never heard of a library allowing you to change the lighting! This is a really impressive library! Nice pictures that you included too!

  4. Savannah Coker says:

    I really like that the students have the ability to change the lighting (even though, just typing that out makes me worry about how some might misuse this feature). My husband is a graphic designer and learned in his school that it’s better on your eyes to be in a darker room when looking at a computer screen for a long time. I also like the board letting people know where the available computers are! It’s quite embarassing to come into a crowded computer lab and crawl over people just trying to find an open computer. Great innovations!

  5. Kelly Statz says:

    I like the thought of being able to see right away if there are any computer terminals open without having to walk up and down every isle looking (and hoping) for open space.

  6. Elizabeth Ponder says:

    As a librarian who handles computer use, I absolutely love the idea of having a screen that shows what computers are in use. In that past we have just kind of had to point patrons in the right direction. To be able to digitally show with up to date information is an innovative idea. Someone was really using their head. I like your blog. Very streamlined and readable. I even scrolled down and was intrigued by the make your own library card post. Neat!

  7. L Katherine RobinSun says:

    Laura, I really like the look of your blog page. I tried to change my entrance picture, but while it showed changed on the preview page…it doesn’t show up on the blog page.

    I really enjoyed the way you explained the layout of the library and the different “commons” areas. The pictures show a space that looks warm and inviting. I must say, that the library I reviewed, has a lot of warm colours…but the steel and glass give it more of a hard, cold look….at least in the pictures. And I think it was BRILLIANT to leave plugs hanging from the ceiling!!!

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