Monday, May 05, 2008

LOEX 2008 - Elmhurst Library

The pre-conference for LOEX was an introduction to and tour of the Elmhurst College Library, about 15 minutes from the conference site.

Designing Library Spaces with a Focus on Information Literacy

In 1999 the Elmhurst College Library got funding to redesign the main floor of the library. They spent 2000-01 planning, writing up the project, working with an architect and in the summer of 2002 the library was closed and construction was done.

The requirements that were passed on to the architect centered around information literacy – focus more on instruction, than print resources, so most of the books and bound periodicals were cleared out of that floor. They weeded out 10% of the material and all bound periodicals went to other two floors.

The resulting space is unlike any I have seen before:

As you walk into the library, there is the check-out desk on one side and the café on the other. The café is an elegant crescent with tables and chairs and serving simple fare of coffee, soda, cookies, chips, granola bars. They wish they had pulled in a water source, so a more extensive menu could be offered. This is popular with students and even professors use the space for conferences with students.

The central space is the classroom with 30 work stations in clumps of 4 or 6 computers, each on a 60x27 table, so more can gather around it. The room is non-rectangular, somewhat fan shaped with two glass walls, so students can see when instruction is being done, and when there is no instruction, they can go in and use the computers. The students have named it the Fishbowl, so for library week, they went and decorated the windows with fish.

The reference desk has been much reduced – it has two chairs, two computers, but open to the room, so students come and sit down to ask for help or just talk, or get a piece of candy. The desk is staffed by paraprofessionals, as the 6 librarians spend most of their time teaching (250-300 sessions a year). Reference is just an extension of the instruction.

The computers are set up in configurations of 4, back to back, with extended tables for each, where four people could easily gather around.

There is a comfy chair reading area and about a quarter of the floor is still bookshelves, but low ones to open up the space and let the art be seen. The shelves contain current periodicals and the much reduced reference collection. The library had money at one time to purchase art from a group of Chicago artists, who graduated from the Chicago Institute of Art in the 70’s to early 80’s. These are displayed on the walls throughout the library and add a wonderful touch of color and interest.

The architect talked about the process. After the library had written up the specifications of what they wanted – to think young and that it had to be multi-use, they drew a bubble diagram of the different zones they planned for the library.

The library was not a badly used building to begin with, but with the renovation it is now a super used building (they haven’t kept actual data). Circulation has stayed the same (instead of dropping) and the number of reference questions and instruction sessions has gone up a lot. The teaching faculty participated in the weeding process, so they had no complaints about the weeding, but a few had fits about circulating videos, so they backed off on that innovation.

What they do with the staff they have is quite amazing. They have 6 librarians, 13 paraprofessionals and 20 student workers for a population of 2800 students, 10% grads. Librarians do all the teaching and have divided liaison responsibilities differently. Each has a science, a big department, a hard to work with department, an easy to work with department. Each is also the head of some department in the library, like access services, tech services or reference/instruction. They also provide much of the tech support for the university. They administer Blackboard and teach instructors to use it. They help faculty and students with most software related technical problems. They offer a credit course “Chicago’s great libraries.”

Another interesting factor is that the public library is right across the street, so they collaborate on collection building, and have only about 20% overlap. I wish Kalamazoo Public was closer to us, so we could send students down for some of the things they need.

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