Deepening the Conversation

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


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Revisiting the definition of the Commons

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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New Post, new post! Calling Learning Commons Librarians!

Hello readers! After a long transition, I am finally in place at my new position, Learning Commons Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Undergraduate Library! (wow, that’s a mouthful!). My apartment is full of boxes, my week is full of scheduled meetings, my mind is full of exciting possibilities, and my heart, my heart is full of happiness.

I am so thrilled to be here.

The new position is going to be an interesting ride, mediating my idealistic hopes and plans for the Learning Commons with the institutional realities and prior shape of the Commons. I’m still working on my ‘elevator speech’ but I think I’ve given the super succinct version here before: I’ll be creating collaborations with academic and student services units across campus to maximize the unique opportunities afforded by being one of the few non- or trans- disciplinary educational sites on campus.

It’s a huge change from my very traditional former position as an instruction dn collection development librarian, but I think this position will allow me to explore the reasons I came to librarianship in the first place. I left my doctoral program in Religious studies in large part because I realized that the take away I wanted was much more about enhanced critical thinking and less about content than might be desirable for a disciplinary professor. I entered librarianship because I thought there was enormous potential for enhancing undergraduate critical thinking skills through information literacy. My take on the Learning Commons is that it is a way to focus more on critical thinking and information literacy, although in a non-classroom-based manner.

This seems to be a very different take on Learning Commons’ than what I’m seeing out there in the literature, so I expect you will be hearing a lot from me on Libraries as a locus for learning and knowledge creation as I try to build community and develop like-minded support, and generally change the world.

That said, I have started a small spreadsheet of Learning Commons folks that I know of. Please, leave a comment or drop me a line if this is your work too — I’m eager to see all the different forms this work can take!

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