UI Main Library addition could mean 24-hour access


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The changing landscape of education is about to transform the University of Iowa Main Library into a learning commons filled with smart boards, individual study cubicles, laptop furnishings, group study space, a "concierge" service, and 24-hour entrance by the fall of 2013.

The $14.5 million plan — funded by the Office of the Provost — was proposed after meetings between UI officials and student-governing bodies assessed the needs and wants of students on campus.

And following the state Board of Regents' approval of the 40,000-square-foot Learning Commons project on Oct. 27, the Main Library Learning Commons project manager Chris Clark started to accelerate the plans.

"One thing we've been hearing is that students don't know where to go with their questions because there are different desks for different questions," Clark said. "We're going to eliminate that and put all of [the information ] in one place with one main desk. It will act as a concierge type service."

Kristi Bontrager, the UI Libraries public-relations manager, said students will be able to check out books, have their technology questions answered, and be directed to a tutor all at the same desk.

Though in the "Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage" classrooms, there will be an abundance of desks.

"One of the interesting features of the new TILE classrooms is that it will have a barn-door-like effect," Clark said. "People can open it when no one is using it and use the TVs."

While the library will still provide computers, Clark said, there will be more laptops than desktops, and the Learning Commons will accommodate students with their own equipment.

"We're finding that people use their own equipment, and we want to make more furnishings that support that," Clark said.

The first floor will seek more additions than just learning space.

The current Food for Thought will expand into a sit-down café that provides sandwiches and an espresso machine, Bontrager said.

She emphasized the value of student input in the project, because it is primarily student learning space.

"We're hoping to set up a website to encourage students to submit comments, questions, and thoughts," she said. "There might be something as simple as a construction wall with a chalkboard and chalk and asking students to write comments on it."

A webcam might be placed inside the construction zone, Bontrager added.

The south entrance will close this summer, and construction will begin.

Clark said officials are committed to keeping the library accessible throughout the construction process.

"We're moving staff to the fifth floor and reclaiming that space and focusing it for students," Clark said.

Although the restrooms by Shambaugh Auditorium will be removed, more refined restrooms will be added to the first floor along with 24-hour access at the new Madison Street entrance, located near the bus stop.

"We're trying to decide how to provide 24-hour access and make sure it's secure," Clark said. "Card swipes may play into it. It's just one of the notions were exploring there."

UI Student Government President Elliot Higgins, said student leaders are "thrilled they are embarking on this project," and they have met with library officials about extending the hours of operation to 24 hours the week before finals. At present, the Main Library is open 24 hours only during finals week.

But the problem is available staff.

"With this new library commons, they can close down the whole library except for the learning commons," Higgins said. "It will go a long way to provide more study space in long night hours."

Officials are hyped about the relaxing atmosphere the library will provide for students.

"It's a great collaboration because the library has always been an academic space and continues to be a place where students can ask questions and not have to answer," Bontrager said.

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