Library Learning Commons Proposal 
Jan. 31, 2014


In 1968, the Harold F. Johnson Library at Hampshire College was imagined as the “educative aorta of the College,” critical to Hampshire’s interdisciplinary, experimental program. In 2014, we have the opportunity, thanks to the Portal Building project and the bookstore’s impending relocation, to re-envision a library that includes a Learning Commons designed to respond more actively, directly, and with a greater impact, to the Hampshire curriculum. While much of the commons project will focus on the ground floor, there are implications for reprogramming library spaces throughout the library’s five floors and the adjacent Airport Lounge, including examination of front-of-house/back-of-house, and quiet/active spaces. Hampshire’s President, Jonathan Lash, issued a charge to the library to lead a campus-wide process to explore these issues.

October 2013, Library Learning Commons[i] Charge:

The library will partner with the Academic Program to create a robust and energized space for both study and access to academic support services. Combining these resources in the library’s centralized location will create an accessible, interdisciplinary, and supportive learning environment for all Hampshire students.

The Library Learning Commons Concept will be developed by an ad hoc steering committee, convened and chaired by Library Director Jennifer King, and based upon broad input from students, faculty, staff, and affected programs.

A Learning Commons Ad Hoc Steering Committee[ii] representing curricular and academic program areas from across Hampshire formed in November 2013. The committee, taking guidance from the consultancy Brightspot Strategy[iii] and the Learning Space Toolkit[iv], engaged in a series of activities to explore the current state of the library.  From Dec. 1 – Jan. 15, the steering committee solicited feedback on butcher-block paper posted in the library and conducted: an online survey, observations, interviews, focus-group discussions, and a participatory workshop with consultants Brightspot Strategy and campus stakeholders.[v]  The feedback we gathered identified gaps in the following four areas:

Space: The library lacks both adequate quiet study and group study workspace, has uncomfortable and unattractive furniture, poor lighting (“the lighting kills my soul”), and inconsistent temperatures; the layout/navigation is challenging and not ADA compliant, and the building needs better maintenance and more student storage space.

Technology: Students and faculty expressed a need for more computer workstations, software and editing stations; technology-rich mediated workrooms with whiteboards and chalkboards; infrastructure for data storage and backups; and an expanded circulating collection to include laptop computers and tablets.

Programs and Services: Students and faculty were satisfied with the quality of many of the library’s current services but desired extended library hours, a coffee shop and food, and better ways to connect students to (integrated) resources to support their work; i.e. academic support, community-engaged internships and academic programs and resources; support for maker space activities that would include expanded media hours; and event/gallery support.

Information Resources: Gaps identified include a the need for a browsable DVD film collection (currently non-browsable), an archive that is more easily accessible, a desire for more books and e-journals, and the ability to access electronic resources on circulating computers and notepads.

Hamshire Info Gathering

Library information gathering activities included observations, interviews and open feedback.

Broad Findings

  • Student Support: Hampshire’s complimentary research, writing, speaking, quantitative/qualitative skill development resources are distributed across the campus, are in various states of development, and are hard to find.
  • Making: The library is not aligned well with Hampshire’s making culture – the products of our work are poorly displayed, media production spaces are hidden and bootstrapped: there’s no place to spread out and brainstorm, make posters, explore cross-disciplinary use of technology and tools.
  • Variety and Choice: There is insufficient variety of work environments to accommodate the diverse ways in which Hampshire students and faculty work and the diversity of their work products.
  • Navigation: The library is hard to navigate in terms of its spaces and services – things don’t flow well or have the right adjacencies and users are not aware of the services offered.
  • Visibility: Given Hampshire’s individualized curriculum, student work is often invisible to others and students have difficulty finding others whose work is closely aligned with theirs.

Relevant Trends

The University Leadership Council’s 2010 Redefining the Academic Library: Managing the Migration to Digital Information Services details a growing trend in libraries that are reconfiguring their spaces to support new student needs. The advent of the “learning commons” over the last decade has provided users with new learning environments and a streamlined academic support experience. What was once a warehouse for books has become “a vibrant hub of activity, and offers a commons that is flexible, allowing users greater control over the ultimate utilization and configuration, and provides a variety of multimedia tools for students and faculty exploring alternative modes of scholarship. Food and drink restrictions are relaxed, creating a comfortable café-like environment. Related academic support units from advising and centers for teaching and learning to math labs and writing centers are located within the library, presenting students with a “one-stop shop” for almost any academic need.” Examples of learning commons include New York University’s Bobst Library Research Commons[vi], the University of Connecticut Homer Commons at Babbidge Library[vii] and the University of Pennsylvania Weigle Information Commons.[viii]


UPenn Weigle Info Commons, UConn’s Homer Commons at Babbidge Library, NYU Bobst Library Research Commons (Right to Left)

Maker spaces are a growing trend in libraries that Hampshire may have forecasted with our active media labs that provide students with staff and tools to create, rather than just consume information. “Maker culture is one way for libraries to support innovation and creativity, using library space in ways that people want and need.”[ix] Models include Northeastern University’s Digital Media Lab[x] and Harvard University’s Innovation Lab.[xi]


Forty members of the Hampshire community, representing areas of the academic programs and schools, participated in crafting a vision statement for the commons:

At Hampshire College “to know is not enough. ” This philosophy underlies a vision for the commons as providing a clear pathway to discovery, knowledge acquisition and knowledge production. The space, built flexibly and managed dynamically, will bring opposing atmospheres into dialog, and nurture the unique Hampshire need for both the individual/collective, known/unknown, reflective (meditative)/active by providing for collaborative and individual work in a technologically and academic-resource-rich environment. The commons will foster community, creativity and curiosity, supporting Hampshire’s student-driven curriculum and faculty’s intellectual lives.

The key activities to be supported in the Learning Commons include quiet study, group study, social connections, resource exploration and creation. The Commons addresses gaps by providing ample study space, group meeting and workspace, social space in the café, supported maker space and student storage space. The Commons renovation will also allow the library to “rezone” its levels to establish quiet study and active, noisy zones as well as redistribute front-of-house services and back-of-house services (Information Technology, for example). Redistributing and rezoning the library will make services more accessible and easily navigable for students, faculty and staff.

The following are prioritized lists for spaces and services proposed for the Library Learning Commons. The list offers a balanced mix of general and specialized spaces and mix of self-serve vs. supported spaces:


  • Open collaborative floor plan with small, reservable group study rooms
  • Coffee shop or café (we envision that the Commons Café would supplant the existing Bridge Café by repurposing the Airport Lounge from quiet to active)
  • Maker Space Media Lab and Technology Sandbox
  • Research & Knowledge Production Station
    • Quantitative/qualitative skill support
    • Writing support
    • Speaking support
    • Research workshops and consultations
    • Portfolio support (PARC Mentors)
    • Flexible seminar workshop, training, and advising Space
      • Academic program partner workshop and advising space
      • Flexible faculty seminar, training room & workshop space
      • Dedicated quiet study space
      • Concierge desk/welcome station for wayfinding support
      • Event, screening & lecture Room
      • Updated or reconfigured gallery space


  • Expanded library hours & Media Services hours
  • Integrated research & learning support: research instruction, Writing, Speaking, Quantitative/qualitative and Peer Mentoring station
  • Media Lab, Maker Space, Technology Sandbox support
  • Coffee Shop
  • Integrated Library Service Point (InfoBar)
  • Concierge Desk/Welcome
  • Integrated gallery, screenings, events & programs

We foresee that entities like the Global Education Office, Childhood, Youth and Learning Program, or the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program will be able to host events in the library, connect students to research resources, advice and field work or internship opportunities, and that students using these programs will stay in the Commons to grab a coffee, meet with friends to study, and catch up on reading before attending class. Groups and programs whose needs will inform the design of the Commons will evolve as the College evolves, and, in 2014, include:

Creativity Center
Writing Center
Transformative Speaking Program
Career Options Resource Center
Center for Academic Advising and Support
Dean of Students
Center for Design
Center for Interpretative Community Engaged Research
Center for Teaching and Learning
Global Education Office
Childhood, Youth and Learning Program
Culture, Brain and Development Program
Entrepreneurship Center
Global Migrations Program
Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program
Community Partnerships for Social Change
Population and Development Program
Summer Programs
PARC Mentor Program

Note: Core library collections and services were cited as resources that are mission-critical and of continued importance, and are not part of the proposed changes in fashioning a Commons.

Hamshire Current Library

Current images from Hampshire College Library


The Learning Commons has the potential to transform student experience at Hampshire. The Commons will connect students with resources, bring attention to programs, and support student work throughout the divisional system, alleviating burdens on staff and faculty. The Commons will also strengthen spaces that support creativity and collaboration, both of which are essential in a successful interdisciplinary and small community. The Commons has the potential to provide visual evidence of what is unique about the College, and that distinctiveness will give Hampshire a competitive edge within the Five Colleges and amongst its peer institutions. Enhancing maker space resources offered within the library will be a beacon to prospective students seeking the Hampshire curriculum to support their creativity and productivity. This growing trend in academic libraries is one that Hampshire can take a lead on within the Five College community. Furthermore, recruitment[xii] and retention[xiii] are directly supported by this project. The renovation will make important strides in addressing the social isolation and academic isolation students and faculty cite as key challenges to their experience at Hampshire.


It seems likely that many components of the proposed Learning Commons project will be strong contenders for fundraising. The “Research and Knowledge Production Station” will be pursued with the Mellon Foundation. Plans to bring the Creativity Center into the library could encourage collaboration with Eileen Fisher. The Hampshire Student Union has approached the Library and proposed they would like to contribute to prototyping furniture and space layouts in the Airport Lounge. The Commons will be well positioned to provide support for innovation and can enhance the College’s entrepreneurial initiative. Finally, and not yet explored, are the possibilities in the actual renovation to embody and pursue sustainable building methods and materials to tie the library to the campus-wide sustainability ethos and activities.

Next Steps

The next steps for a project like this are numerous. Initial steps involve more in-depth building analysis to assess physical conditions and space/collection constraints. The building has a known HVAC problem and collection storage needs. The steering committee hopes that we can prototype some of the ideas in this proposal to get feedback, and refine them as part of the development process. There will be organizational work to redesign services, partnerships, and develop a service-model for the Commons. Positions will need to be reallocated in some instances to broaden or shift duties to support more maker activities and longer building hours.

[i][i] The term “Learning Commons” may change, but for the purposes of this proposal is used to describe ground floor renovations, renovations to the Airport Lounge, including repurposing/redesigning office space and social space in the Airport Lounge area.

[ii] Cole Cateneo-Ryan, Rehamping Student; Zena Clift, Associate Dean of Advising; Bob Crowley, Director of Information Technology; Marjorie Hutter, Director of Foundation and Government Relations; Asha Kinney, Assistant Director of I.T.-Technology Teaching/Learning; Alana Kumbier, Critical Social Inquiry & Digital Pedagogy Librarian; Thom Long, Five College Assistant Director of Architecture & Design, Director of Creativity Center; Kristen Luschen, Associate Professor of Education Studies, CSI; Byron McCrae, Dean of Students; Oliver Martinez, Rehamping Student; Steve Roof, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, NS; Daniel Schrade, Associate Professor of Art; Jeff Wallen, Dean of HACU; Carl Weber, Project Manager, Facilities Management; Laura Wenk, Dean of Curriculum and Assessment

[iii] Brightspot is a strategy consultancy that partners with leading universities, cultural institutions, non-profits, and companies. Their team uses an engaging process to create strategies for spaces, services, organizations, and experiences. http://brightspotstrategy.com/

[iv] The Learning Space Toolkit was developed based on Brightspot methods, and is a resource for designing and sustaining technology-rich informal learning spaces


[v] The committee received 32 online survey comments, 97 comments on butcher-block paper, observed 530 students using the library, interviewed 33 students using the library about their experience, held small focus-group discussions with the Writing Center; Transformative Speaking Program; Creativity Center; Career Options Resource Center; Center for Academic Advising and Support; Dean of Students; Rehamping; Center for Design; Center for Interpretative Community Engaged Research; Center for Teaching and Learning; Global Education Office, Childhood, Youth and Learning; Culture, Brain and Development; Global Migration; Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program; Community Partnerships for Social Change; PopDev; Summer Programs; Entrepreneurship Task Force; faculty connected with the former Quantitative and Qualitative Resource Center; the PARC Mentor Program; and faculty from programs in HACU, NS, CS, IA, and CSI. 

[vi] http://nyu.libguides.com/researchcommons

[vii] Storefront partnership model: key service point is in the library but offices are elsewhere; distinct from the library organizationally. Includes Quantitative Learning Center (part of the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning), Digital Learning Center, with dedicated workstations in the Commons; and Learning Center (part of the Language and Cultural Center). http://homercommons.uconn.edu/

[viii] Visiting partnership model: scheduled hours in the library in shared space with other partners or users; distinct from library organizationally. Includes Weingarten Learning Resources Center: time and project management workshops; Marks Family Writing Center: by appointment only at the library; Communication Within the Curriculum (CWiC): public speaking skills.


[ix] Susan Hildreth, director of IMLS, as quoted in the article, “The Makings of a Maker: Making Space for Creation, Not Just Consumption” Library Journal, October 2, 2012.

[x] A new Digital Media Commons, a collaborative learning facility, supported by Library and Info Technology Services staff for audio and video creation and multimedia projects – available 24/7; designed by a steering committee of individuals from University Libraries, Information Services, the College of Arts, Media and Design, and Facilities, with input from faculty and students.

InfoCommons managed by ITS, also 24/7. http://dmc.northeastern.edu/

[xi] Harvard Innovation Lab fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration between students, faculty and the greater Boston community; includes a workshop/prototyping room as well as workstations, conference rooms, a “next generation classroom” and a kitchen and café. http://i-lab.harvard.edu/

[xii] According to the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (2006), libraries are an important consideration when students select a university or college and, as a result, academic libraries can help institutional admissions boost enrollment (Simmel 2007, 88). Specifically, the library ranked second in terms of facilities important in the selection decision process; only facilities for students’ majors ranked higher. Libraries were ranked ahead of technology facilities, the student union center, and even recreational facilities (Michigan Academic Library Council 2007, 2).

[xiii] The link between retention, or “student persistence,” and library use is comprehensively documented in a literature review drawing on sources dating back to [the] 1960s. This study found a statistically significant correlation between library use and persistence: almost 75% of first year students that used the library returned to their second year; just over half that never used the library persisted into their second year (Mezick 2007, 562).

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Go top