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Learning Commons marks first year

BY BEN MARKS | SEPTEMBER 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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Spotless white walls, minimalistic furniture, bright bold colors, and a trendy café.

None of these phrases brings the idea of “library” immediately to mind, yet this is exactly how the University of Iowa’s Main Library Learning Commons is designed.

Last fall, the $14.5 million Learning Commons opened in the university’s Main Library, and since then, the library has seen its number of visitors skyrocket.

According to the library’s annual report, visitor tallies peaked in April at 162,000, almost 50,000 more visitors than the previous four-year monthly average of 114,000.

“I think the Learning Commons has helped invigorate the library as a whole,” University Librarian John Culshaw said.

One of the biggest draws of the 37,000-square-foot study space are the 18 private group rooms and six group areas spaces located throughout the Commons.

Although the Main Library does not plan any more renovations to the Commons, it has recently earned a $500,000 grant from the Carver Trust and plans to renovate the North Exhibition Hall.

The facelift will provide a better display area for items in Special Collections.

Officials expect the project to be completed by the fall of 2015.

Each private room, which may be reserved, comes equipped with a table and chairs, an 80-inch LCD monitor, USB and HDMI ports, writable whiteboard walls, and temperature control.

“What is really clear to me is how the students have embraced the group areas and how they really have been wildly popular, and I think that has been a real sign of success,” Culshaw said.

Before, the library struggled with providing adequate study space for students, library public-relations manager Kristi Robinson-Bontrager said.

The low ceilings and dark cramped spaces were unattractive studying areas and didn’t invite a lot of collaboration among students.

“This building was designed in the 1950s; no one was doing anything 24 hours in the 1950s, it wasn’t designed for that sort of thing,” she said.

So when the Learning Commons was planned, its main goal was to provide a 24-hour study space, private group rooms, as well as opening and brightening the area up more.

“I usually come here because it’s a better study environment than being in an apartment — there’s just too many distractions,” UI senior Kip Owen said. “When you come here, you’re more motivated to use your time wisely.”

Before the Learning Commons existed, he said, he didn’t go to the library much.

“This is definitely nicer than it was, more inviting, more modern,” he said. “People are more comfortable here.”

Now, he said, he goes to the library about once a week.

UI senior Alicia Mendonca also wasn’t at the library very often and doesn’t really remember what it was like before the Learning Commons.

“I really like that everything is here, the food … if you need to copy, print, or scan things, ATMs, there’s just so many things here, and I don’t have to walk down to the IMU for food or anything,” she said. “I can just relax and be in one place.”


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