User-Centered Spaces: Part 1Posted: August 7, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the next post, I will discuss my thoughts about the renovation and how these improvements have affected users.