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September 26, 2003

Miles-Smith Information Commons Connects
Technology and Comfort

Reacting to an ever-increasing demand for access to online resources and state-of-the-art hardware and software programs as well as all requisite support services, Library, Information, and Technology Services (LITS) has created an information commons on the fourth floor of the Miles-Smith wing of the library. The new configuration is something of a minor technological revolution for a space that had largely been dedicated to housing print back-files of science abstracting and indexing services, which now tend to be superseded by online databases.

"It is a very open and beautiful public space that was previously underused by the overall community. It is important to us for users to have easy access to the myriad of services and resources we provide and not be traipsing through three buildings to get what they need," said Cindy Legare, associate director of LITS. "This represents another connecting point between information and technology."

The creation of an information commons represents an emerging trend at colleges and universities, as technological advances influence the ways in which libraries house and facilitate access to information. MHC's new facility succeeds at integrating information-support services into the processes of learning and research. "I think it's really very impressive. It's a nice asset for the school, and it has great equipment with lots of good help to go along with it," said Lauren Blair '05, as she sat using one of the workstations.

Renovation began with the removal of the stacks and was followed by cosmetic improvements such as the installation of new ceiling tiles and carpet, work on the heating and ventilation system, and a fresh coat of paint. The architectural nuts and bolts of the space include a number of oversized collaborative workstations and study tables where groups of two to four students can work in concert on assignments and other research. The info commons also offers plenty of comfortable seating, including a refurbished octagon room, a spot popular with students for decompressing and attending to more casual activities.

The category 6 data connections in the Information Commons provide 10/100 Ethernet connectivity. The technological lifeblood of the info commons is its computer lab, which when completely equipped will boast 38 machines and eight dedicated email stations. Wireless access is available for those users who choose to bring their own laptops to this area or who have checked out a laptop from the Circulation desk. Add to that a diagnostic center, staffed by lab consultants, which students can access when they need onsite technology support or help troubleshooting a problem with their personal computer. And soon to be arriving on the scene will be the recently created position of tech mentor.

Students trained to be tech mentors will provide one-on-one help, by appointment, if someone wants technological instruction. "By and large the response has been very positive. We've already helped over 400 students deal with viruses and troubleshoot other problems in the first week of classes," said lab manager Marc Boucher.

An added goal of the remodeling was to co-locate the once widely separated offices of reference librarians and instructional technologists. Last summer LITS merged reference and curriculum support and instructional technology into a new unit, research and instructional support (RIS). Legare said that work to concentrate RIS department offices within Williston will take place before the start of second semester.

"We really want people to gain the understanding that they can receive training together with access to online or print materials," Legare said. "We want to be a nimble and flexible enough organization that we can shift support staff and materials as needed."

The creation of the info commons has affected spaces to its immediate north and south in both Dwight and Williston as well. Dwight houses four primary computer spaces, including the special projects lab, the LITS training room, the faculty resource center, and the video resource center. The faculty resource center is staffed by RIS personnel and focuses on helping faculty members incorporate technology into their classroom pedagogies. The student-staffed video resource center is used for work on graphic arts and multimedia production.

LITS has designated new locations for the actively used collections previously housed on Miles-Smith 4. Science reference books have been moved to the library's main reference room, a move that supports the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of student assignments. The display of current issues of science, psychology, and education journals, well used and appreciated by many in the community, are now located near the science reference books within the main reference room and join an improved display of humanities and other periodicals. "We're not separating books from technology or information services," Legare said. "We want users to feel compelled to ask us questions and understand that we're here as another type of resource."

The Luddington reading room in Williston offers 20 computers with quiet keyboards, work tables, comfortable seating, printed reference materials and periodicals, and information-support offices.

"I think they're loving it so far," Legare said of community response to the new space. "More people come in every day and as the semester rolls along it will be even more heavily used."


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