sustainable learning spaces

Sustainable Commons: Bringing Multimodal Composition and Digital Media Production to the (Physical) Center of Pacific University

Alfred Weiss, Pacific University
Marita Kunkel, Pacific University

Imagining a Digital Downtown

New Roles for Libraries
Theorizing a Media Commons

Developing Partnerships
Next Steps

Imagining a Digital Downtown

Reassessing Library Space Use

Discussions about finding space for the Center’s activities were part of a broader reassessment of the Forest Grove Library space. Although the facility was completed just seven years ago, much has changed in that period of time. The pace of this change in academic libraries has been rapid, breathtaking in scope, and technology-driven. It is also filled with creative possibilities for innovative, expanded roles for libraries and librarians. Many of these possibilities are enhanced by the repurposing of space that was formerly dedicated to the storage and maintenance of print collections, collections now accessible in electronic format. Could new services, such as the Center for Educational Technology and Curricular Innovation, the Library’s developing publishing services, or even dedicated exhibit space, be effectively established in existing library spaces? These were the questions asked as part of our reassessment.

Apple computers are lined up on long desks. There are four rows of tables with monitors.

Figure 1: The Library Classroom was originally configured in straight rows with students facing front.

One area that the Library considered changing is a computer classroom on the first floor. This classroom is laid out in rows of fixed computer tables that make it very difficult for either the instructor or students to move around the room and also make it difficult for students to engage in collaborative work (see Image 1). Shelves are being dismantled and sunlight is coming in through a glass wall.The library classroom is a less than ideal learning space, and thus underutilized, while students heavily use other areas in the Library with computing resources. Despite having access to smartphones and personal laptops, students are using computer stations in the Learning Commons and other areas of the Library for everything from class assignments to updating their Facebook statuses. Projected growth of the University’s student body and an increase in technology-based programs of study make it likely that these resources will soon need to be enhanced. To the authors, the needs to reconfigure the classroom and enhance student computing services overlapped with the space needs of the Center for Educational Technology and Curricular Innovation. Rather than develop separate spaces, it made sense to explore the options for a single space, which could accommodate these various needs. We began thinking of a common space, a “media commons.” One challenge, however, was the location and size of the classroom, as well as concerns about overextending its capacity to serve multiple uses.

Figure 2: The periodicals browsing area adjacent to the Library Classroom.

Immediately adjacent to the computer classroom, separated only by a glass wall, was the current periodicals browsing area, a large window-lined space filled with natural light (see image 2). By winter 2011, fewer than half the shelves were being used for current print periodicals, since many of the Libraries’ subscriptions had been migrated to electronic format.The University Librarian, in conversations with Student Senate, confirmed the obvious: this prime space was vastly underutilized.The students, when queried about how they used the space, Blueprints show a mixture of classroom space and places for literature.were puzzled and responded that this was the space they walked through to reach the computer classroom. Thus, we had two adjacent spaces ripe for change (note the location of the two areas in image 3).

Figure 3: The original architectural plans for the periodicals browsing area, the Library Classroom, and the 24-hour study center.

New Roles for Libraries

As we weighed options for space renovation, we were influenced by innovative thinking about the role of 21st-century academic libraries (Lewis, 2007: No Brief Candle, 2008; Redefining the Academic Library, 2011). The popular conception that all information is available freely online may seem to challenge libraries to defend their existence, but digital technologies have, in fact, allowed libraries to imagine new futures, creating a new blueprint for ourselves as places for active learning, rather than as primarily storehouses of knowledge (Davenport, 2006). Less storage space could mean more public space. Libraries have always included an element of social space. Our new “blueprint” now emphasizes social learning spaces, which will facilitate collaboration and interdisciplinary interactions. Libraries are reshaping, repurposing, and essentially redefining themselves to meet the needs of a new generation of learners, including both students and faculty. But beyond meeting these needs, academic libraries also have the opportunity to influence how knowledge itself is created and shared, with librarians becoming collaborators in the discovery process and partners in the scholarly communication process. A new learning environment in which knowledge-creation activities can take place is needed. We wanted to seize the opportunity to reconfigure our library spaces to create this new environment.

Pacific University Library has actively embraced and developed many of the new opportunities brought about by advances in digital technologies. Our institutional repository, CommonKnowledge, opened in 2009 and includes both faculty and student scholarship. The success of CommonKnowledge led the Library to explore the potential of a new role as publisher. Several open access journals—and one book, to date—are now being published under the Library’s imprimatur. In addition, library faculty have collaborated with College of Arts and Sciences faculty to develop a curriculum supporting a publishing minor. We have recognized and are expanding the Library’s important role in scholarly communication and e-research, driven by online publishing opportunities, by the continuing crisis in journal publishing, and by our advocacy for the open access movement. Digital technologies make this new role possible, but broad, University-wide partnerships make us successful and position the Library to leverage new collaborations, and to even envision a collaborative use of space.

Our migration to e-publications, article-level purchasing (in place of journal subscriptions), and demand-driven acquisitions models, while not replacing print entirely, has fundamentally changed how we deliver information and has opened up much needed opportunities to repurpose both staff and space formerly dedicated to managing and housing print collections. Staff, whose work centered on the management of growing print collections (processing, shelving, mending books, and binding journals,), can now focus more on direct user services. Electronic resources increase our capacity to develop shared collections with our consortium partners and, increasingly, unique, local and “hidden” collections are made discoverable and shared through digitization projects. While libraries were necessarily print-centered in the past, collecting and preserving vast physical repositories of the world’s knowledge in collections that were duplicated in academic libraries across the nation, today we can more creatively shift our focus, as noted above, from the delivery of knowledge to the discovery and creation of knowledge, promoting it among our own students and faculty. Academic libraries have never been simply warehouses for booksthey have always combined a variety of services, including reference and instruction services, access services, study space, and reading and exhibit spaces. However, those services were defined—and limited—by our physical collections. As this print landscape recedes, a new landscape is evolving and is ours to shape.

This migration from print to electronic collections is, of course, not unique to Pacific, and the topic of space repurposing has been a popular one among librarians and university administrators in recent years (Beard and Dale, 2008; Oblinger, 2006; Sullivan, 2010; Stuart, 2009). This discussion of space is accompanied by a new emphasis on clearly demonstrating the value of libraries to their larger institution (Oakleaf, 2011). At Pacific, with this project, we have the opportunity to recapture and reconfigure existing spaces to increase their value—and the Library’s value—to the University community. Our plans to repurpose space needed to be carried out carefully, with a sound understanding of the outcomes we sought to achieve and with an eye open to partnerships that could strengthen our planning.

Theorizing a Media Commons

As we continued this planning, we were influenced by Inman’s (2010) contention that next generation writing centers, or multiliteracy centers, should be built according to the principles of multi-use zoning. Over the past thirty years, urban planners have emphasized neighborhoods that contain retail, commercial, and residential spaces in close proximity to each other. Having these uses clustered together not only encourages residents and visitors alike to walk and use mass transit, but also makes neighborhoods more vibrant, with people engaging in various activities at all hours.  Inman suggests that writing centers, like these neighborhoods, should also combine multiple services so that they will be better trafficked than single-use facilities. In the same vein, we felt that combining the various uses we imagined for the Center, including faculty development, student computing space, instructional space, and other digital services, would provide a similar multi-use space. Like a multi-use zoned neighborhood, this space would be sustainable through the use and re-use of shared resources. In addition, the Commons would encourage faculty, students, and other members of the community to engage in different digital explorations in the same space, thereby increasing the chance for the cross-pollination of ideas and collaboration.

In our planning of the media commons, we were influenced by the central notion in new media theory that intellectual production integrates and repurposes components from among and across media types (Bolter & Grusin, 2001; Manovich, 2001; Jenkins, 2006; Lessig, 2008). With the huge amounts of digital data and media available in the modern library, the new computing facility provides students, faculty, and other community members with the tools to incorporate these digital products and published materials into their own scholarly and creative work. Through this process, the library is no longer simply a place for the consumption of media, but becomes a site of media production as well, a site of remediation and remix. Furthermore, as students, faculty, and others repurpose this published material, they in turn are afforded the opportunity to publish their work through the institutional repository CommonKnowledge. The Commons, therefore, is institutionalizing Lessig’s conception of remix culture by establishing a sanctioned University environment for the production, distribution, and consumption of derivative and original scholarly and creative works.

More broadly, we see the space as facilitating in the physical world those types of creative and productive digital exchanges that happen now in the digital worldmanifesting Jenkins’s (2008) the notion of convergence. By encouraging students and faculty to produce media in close physical proximity to each other, we will encourage the exchange of technical skills, knowledge, and collaboration. Through these exchanges, the Commons helps the Pacific community improve use of digital and online tools in the creation of scholarly works, as well as promote partnerships and associations across disciplines. It is worth noting that this approach is also fully compatible with and supports the ideas of multi-use zoning: by having multiple uses within the same space, the Media Commons will offer a more vital and productive experience than if the space were single-use.

Finally, because we recognize our opportunity to support students and faculty in original and critically important ways, we do not see this space as curricularly neutral. Rather, in our initial planning, we had strong desire to see this space enhancing the ways that students and faculty can produce and distribute their scholarship. Beginning with the New London Group’s manifesto on multiliteracies in 1996, has there has been considerable discussion and scholarship about how students and others should best engage with and understand digital and online media as a part of the regular course of study in both K-12 and higher education (Cope & Kalantzis, 1999; Jenkins, Clinton, Purushatma, Robison, & Weigel, 2007; Goodfellow, 2011). These studies on digital literacy focus on two broad areasthe specific skills that students need to understand and produce digital and online materials and the overall social and economic pressure that students are under to be conversant and productive in these media. In addition to these pressures, there are also a number of trends within the academy, both pedagogically and scholarly, which require students to engage in the production and comprehension of digital works. In developing the Media Commons, therefore, we were committed to creating a space where students and faculty would be able to learn, teach, and practice the skills that would be necessary for them to succeed academically and economically.

These influencesinnovative thinking about the 21st-century academic library, the multi-use zoning Inman described, the fundamental concepts of remix and convergence that characterize new media theory, and the critical importance of digital literacy to our students’ successconverged in our planning process, and we began to envision something entirely novel in our library landscape: a vibrant, engaging “digital downtown,” where students, faculty, technology, experimentation, and innovation would converge.

Thus, through lengthy conversations within the Library, we reconceptualized the original need for faculty development space and focused on a “digital downtown,” which would serve the needs of the entire campus. With the plan of this space in place, we developed a written proposal for the Media Commons that we could begin sharing with the campus at large. This proposal envisioned an area beyond our current computer classroom that would include a model learning space, a collaborative workspace, a production space, and integrated multi-purpose spacesthe Media Commons would be our “digital downtown.”

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