Monday, November 19, 2007

Article Note: On collaborative tech rooms in academic libraries

Citation for the article:

Barton, Emily and Arlene Weismantel. "Creating Collaborative Technology-rich Workspaces in an academic library." Reference Services Review 35.3 (2007): 395-404.

Read via Emerald.

The essence of this article is how Michigan State went about creating small technology classrooms that provide spaces for collaborative learning. The article goes through the process from planning to implementation to assessment. Overall, it is pretty straightforward. Note that the funding for the rooms came from a provost initiative on the campus. This means other places may have to look to other resources of funding (grant writing, local campus tech initiatives, etc.).

I found useful the list of questions they provided for the information gathering phase of their plan. I think the questions may also be useful for reflection in places that already have collaborative technology rooms in place. Here are some of the questions then (see pg. 397):

  • "Who uses your space? Is it used by people you originally intended to serve?
  • How do you address technical support for the space?
  • How do you schedule the space? Are there hours when the space is not available when the library is open?
  • What are some of the security issues you have discovered? How do you handle them?
  • Are you measuring the usage of your space? Do you have any data about what is more/less useful?
  • What do users like best about your space?
  • Please give us specific examples of projects or other work that students have done in your high tech facility. Could these projects have been completed if the facility didn't exist? How are they improved by the facility?"
I find that last question to be important because in the article the authors mention that often the rooms were checked out merely as study rooms; the technology was not used. In their defense, the authors claim that serendipity helped to promote the rooms. In other words, those who used the room with no intention of using the technology would either promote it to others or find themselves using it later (400). I was a bit skeptical about this claim. I would be somewhat concerned if the expensive technology learning room was merely used as a study room; you can build a study room on a smaller budget. The reason I would be concerned would be what impression it could make on the administrators who fund it. After all, if they helped pay for the thing, they expect it to be used for more than just sitting around the table. On the other hand, maybe the optimistic view from the article may become pervasive. Word of mouth can be a wonderful public relations tool.

The authors provide a useful summary at the end of the article under the heading of "lessons learned." I will quote them below (see pg. 403, italics in the original), with a thought or two:

  • "Rely on other institutions." In other words, don't reinvent the wheel. Other places have done this. Find out what they did and learn from it.
  • "Location, location, location."
  • "Hold someone responsible." Basically, have someone in charge responsible for the design, the policies, etc., a coordinator.
  • "Make sure library staff and librarians are aware of the features found in the laboratories and feel they are part of the libraries' mission as a whole." You need buy-in from the library staff. You may need to train some staff and educate them. I would add some training and time for them to try out some of the technologies.
  • "Be wary of working with furniture and technology vendors." I think this is self-explanatory. Caveat emptor.


Omar said...

Nice paper review, I'm trying to get the paper but I can't find it without paying. I'm interested on what kind of technology they used in their Collaborative Laboratory. By the way, do you know other papers about this topic, basically I'm interesting in collaborative technology supporting face-to-face learning or working environments.


Angel, librarian and educator said...

Try your local library. Usually they can get it for you via Interlibrary Loan, and it often does not cost anything to do it.