A New Center of Excellence

Focused on Instructor-to-Student
Engagement and Peer-to-Peer Learning

For decades, university libraries have served as a centerpiece to campuses across the nation. These buildings withstood the test of time, providing abundant up-to-date resources along with quiet environments conducive to individual study and research for both students and faculty alike. A library’s mission in 1970 similarly mirrored that of a library centuries before—to serve as an archive of recorded knowledge and a place where students learn how to access this knowledge.

Today, that concept has evolved into much more.

A number of cultural and intellectual institutions in our world—like journalism, publishing, radio, higher education—have found themselves on a cliff of the digital era, questioning: Who are we? What’s next? And will people like the new me?

Libraries, in particular in higher education, have been asking: How do we keep up with all the changing technology? What are the emerging information needs of our students? How do we teach critical research skills to our students—both on campus and online? How do we manage the “information overload”—helping students decipher what’s accurate scholarship?

For some academic libraries, these questions are paralyzing—making this a debate about paper versus eBooks and physical versus digital resources.

For others, like the University of Saint Mary, it has erected a plan for transforming a 20th Century aging warehouse into a learning commons. Instead of serving as a storeroom of knowledge, the library will morph into a center where knowledge isn’t just housed, but created. This transformation is all about creating a transparent learning hub on campus—where students can come to learn, research, collaborate, and grow.

This idea, grounded in creative thought, is new to Saint Mary, but it’s an approach many around the world have researched and executed for the past decade. Though the outside of these transformed spaces may still cry the era they were built (1981 for USM’s De Paul Library), their insides are anything but.

Shelves and cubicles, which once thwarted conversation, are being replaced with open common areas. Moveable tables, chairs, couches, and desks are creating unrestricted spaces perfect for just about any use. Peer-reviewed digital databases are growing exponentially. And instead of librarians navigating card catalogs, they’re helping students and faculty navigate a complex digital world

A Look Back at the 1981 – The Opening of De Paul Library

Average cost of a gallon of gas was $1.25.
Average cost of a new house was $78,200.
IBM launched its first personal computer, and it had MS DOS. It cost $1,565.
Post-it notes were invented.
Michael Jordan began his freshman year at the University of North Carolina.
After 19 years as host of CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite retired.
“The Covenant” by James Michener topped the New York Times Best Seller (fiction) list for 16 weeks.

The Learning Commons

Library Core 1981_2015

BEFORE Room used by library staff 1981-2015

With higher education shifting from lock-step coursework to active learning and technology making today’s students more connected than ever, Saint Mary is responding with campus improvements that account for these changes. The Saint Mary student educational experience must be more experiential than ever—encompassing open and inclusive invitations for engagement, support, research, and creativity.

Advancements supporting this notion have already commenced in the library, receiving the installation of an active learning classroom worth $62,000 through the Active Learning Center (ALC) program—a grant initiative funded by Steelcase Education. This program empowers educators across the country to implement active learning strategies by leveraging classroom space. USM became one of only 13 recipients to win this prestigious and highly competitive grant (over 800 applications were submitted in 2016)—and to date, Saint Mary is the only library to have ever received this award.


AFTER Steelcase Active Learning Center 2016

In the 2016-17 academic year, the ALC was reserved 433 times—including for registration days, poetry readings, Kansas Court of Appeals hearings, student-run coffee club meetings, weekly all-campus yoga, and research symposiums. In the previous academic year, the space that became the ALC was reserved just 30 times. This one year’s usage change is an increase of 1,212 percent.

And with the receipt of the Steelcase Education Active Learning grant, a comprehensive active learning professional development program began with the creation of the Center for Excellence in Spires Teaching and Learning (CESTL)—spearheaded by Academic Dean Dr. Gwen Landever and Library Director Danielle Dion. Through active learning workshops and lunch-and-learns, USM faculty and staff are actively navigating today’s pedagogical paradigm shift from sage-on-the-stage to a guide-on-theside model, while also being invited to share lessons learned, skillsets enhanced, and tips drawn from their didactic experiences in the new library space.

“Across every discipline, we’ve seen faculty embracing the idea of active learning,” said Dr. Landever. “Some of the best learning comes in the process of finding—or not finding—an answer. If we don’t give our students the space and freedom to search, collaborate on possible answers, and test hypotheses, they miss out on an incredible opportunity to grow.”

USM Emerging Technologies Librarian Ashley Creek has also pursued the creation and maintenance of active learning resources for all of campus— cultivating a collection of board games for check out and a Makerspace (a collaborative creative space encouraging hands-on exploration with a combination of raw materials, tools, and support resources), along with developing a technology check-out program. This new program now makes it easy to incorporate 3D printing, large format printing, camcorders with video creation software and tools, an Ozobot 2.0 robot, Raspberry Pi microcomputers, and a Sphero SPRK+ robot into research, teaching, and learning across all academic disciplines.

Building on these impressive feats, the vision for the learning commons calls us still to do more—to truly create a space that prioritizes the needs of our students today … and the needs of our campus community for generations to come.

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