For many years, Wheeler Library at Otero Junior College looked like a typical college library: rows and rows of books, a couple of study rooms, a computer lab, some individual study areas, some tables and a few semi-comfortable, but hard to move chairs. The old maxim, “Silence is Golden” prevailed and library staff were frequently heard “shushing.” The library served the students well for quite some time.
But shortly after the turn of the century, new paradigms emerged in college teaching, technology, and library science. Instructors assigned collaborate projects. Technology became more mobile and books and articles could be accessed online. Library science started moving away from the collection-centered concept to one that was centered around the patrons.
In 2011, a planning group was invited to host a charette on campus, in which various staff members and students participated, offering ideas and insights into the possibility of the Learning Commons concept. Another concept is that the Learning Commons is more patron-centered than the traditional library. Our vision is a transformed space which blends the library’s traditional role as a place of books and contemplation with its emerging role as a place for learning and collaboration. One important concept about a Learning Commons is that the space is transitional and will change as user needs dictate.
The biggest difference in the new space is that it offers more ownership to the users; in other words, it’s a space that belongs to everyone. We want the Commons to be a place that will be inviting to all. Abilene Christian University, when it was contemplating changing to a Learning Commons concept, expressed these ideas, which we embrace:
“We envision a place that draws students in, encouraging them to work not only individually but also in groups; we must provide an abundance of printed and digital resources; we must bring together expertise in interpreting information, solving technological problems, and writing and preparing assignments; and we must facilitate intellectual and social dialogue.”
Another big difference is that, because of the change in focus, we do not expect the Commons to be nearly as quiet as a “traditional” library, although we still provide quiet areas for those students who prefer to study in a more peaceful environment. The noisiness does lessen as the patrons move farther and farther away from the coffee shop, which is located near the north end of the library. The old library also had a balcony that was dismantled to meet ADA compliance.
As you can tell, we’re very proud of our Learning Commons. OJC is in a rural, Hispanic-serving area, with an FTE well less than 1,000. However, we want to arm our students with the best resources possible as they make their way into the world.