Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries

Revisiting the definition of the Commons

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On Friday I went to hear Richard Arum speak about the findings and updated info from his book Academically Adrift. The book generated a lot of buzz when it came out, and has received some criticism on its methodology. I’m not going to dive into that here (reading the book and it’s criticism is on the to do list), that’s not what this post is about.

Here’s what Arum has to do with this post: The Commons movement has defined itself on the positive benefits of libraries as collaborative spaces. Arum’s findings indicate that group study is not a positive and in fact has a negative impact on learning.

Valid or not, it’s a provocative claim. And makes me wonder: Is collaborative space the central defining feature of Commons spaces in/as Library? Or is the Commons a more radical movement that can withstand the ebbs and flows and onslaughts of fashion and continue to grow into the assertion I make for it that the Commons movement is the future of Library?

I think it can, but I’m no longer sure if I’m alone in this or standing in the midst of the pack.

My understanding of the Commons is this:

The Commons (be it Information, Learning, Knowledge, or Scholarly) is the explicit claim that Libraries are no longer about consuming static information. The Common movement is the combination of information in all it’s myriad forms (audio, video, physical, digital, narrative, data, code, fiction, nonfiction, you name it) and the equipment, spaces, and assistance needed to assist learners in their consumption and construction of information and knowledge.

The Commons can hold books and carrels, group spaces, white boards, presentation practice rooms, maker labs, media production labs, media viewing spaces, gaming stations, computer simulators, 3D immersive environments, learning technology that hasn’t been invented yet.

In the most radical reading of this, the Commons moves Library beyond the static scholar alone reading narrative material. The Commons redefines the Library to explicitly support (constantly? exponentially?) changing knowledge consumption and production models. It changes what it means to be a Library, a Librarian, and a library resource.

Am I out here on the edge alone in this thinking? Is this common thought? Maybe an agreed goal we are all striving for?

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