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User-centered Spaces: Part 2

In my last posting, I introduced the new Learning Commons areas at the Georgia Tech Library & Information Center, and how these new renovations assisted with user tasks.  In this post, I will provide my thoughts and reflections on this space…

One of the most effective methods for determining how users utilize the space is  simply taking a step back and observing how they interact. In our hyped-up, fast-paced, “git-r-done” culture, we sometimes miss out on important details when we rush to implement things before questioning…is this what users really want, or is this what vendors and articles tell us users want?  Because each library has its own user community, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

In the fall of 2008, Charlie Bennett, Commons Coordinator at the GA Tech Library, utilized observation methods to take objective measurements such as how many students were using the commons, what kind of computers they were using,  how they tended to group together, etc. For example, he noticed that many students brought their own laptops; this indicates a different grouping dynamic than having students huddle around a library desktop computer.

Charlie also engaged in more common data collection methods, such as distributing surveys and hosting a forum where users could post their comments. However,  one of the most interesting data collection methods Charlie utilized was placing a whiteboards next to a group of sample chairs that students could sit in and evaluate.  Each chair had its own whiteboard and marker where users could write comments about each chair such as:  “This chair is very comfortable” or “This chair color reminds me of puke.”  I found this method innovative because it brought the data collection  right into the user’s environment, rather than asking a student or faculty member to take time out of their busy schedule and go to a survey link or web forum. It reminded me a lot of the whiteboards that undergrads would post on their dormitory doors for people to leave them messages and comments; this has also extended into the digital realm with tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Overall, the use of multi-modal data collection methods are very beneficial to ensuring a positive user experience in a STEM library commons. Charlie has taken great care and consideration with making  sure the Commons is a peaceful, user-centered space. The GA Tech Library is a very busy place where students will often spend hours studying, or simply taking a snooze break in one of the library’s comfortable chairs.  Students and faculty in a science and engineering institution work on many long-term and collaborative projects, and the library is a beneficial tool in helping these users with their research and education.

For more information on the GA Tech Library and Information Center commons:

Library Commons Main Page

Library Commons Project Documents

Main Page for GA Tech Library and Information Center

User-Centered Spaces: Part 1

This blog post is part of an assignment I am doing for my Reference Course for the Sciences disciplines. The purpose of the assignment is for us to pick a science-oriented library that has recently undergone a renovation to meet the needs of the users. So, I decided to discuss the recent learning commons renovations at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where I just completed my Spring practicum. In this post, I will introduce the learning commons at Georgia Tech and describe some of the highlights.

2 West Commons
2 West Commons

While I was interning, I met with Charlie Bennett, who is the Commons Coordinator at the library. Charlie is responsible for monitoring the commons, ensuring that it is functionally designed for user tasks (i.e. independent studying, group collaborations, etc.). He also gave me a tour of the Georgia Tech library commons area. The Commons actually consists of 3 areas: the east and west commons on the first floor (LEC and LWC respectively), and the newly renovated 2 West area on the second floor.


Library West Commons terminals

The LWC contains a wide space of desktop computers provided by the library. Whenever I was at the library, this area was always packed, and it was very difficult to get a computer.  There is a screen upon entering the library that shows which computers are in use (in red). Users can also go to the library website and see available terminals. Now, of course, since it is the summer and it is almost 11:30 PM (up late as usual!), many computers are green (but this is not the norm!).


The East Commons is a very interesting area of the library, and has a lot of innovative aspects. The area has a more modern and “hip” feel. It contains a cafe and vending machines (including ones that sell coffee), so users can get that extra bit of fuel to get through the school’s intense curriculum.  This space is also used for the campus film society to host events, as well as other campus-related exhibits.

This area is very focused on collaborative group work. It also contains computer stations with large monitors so multiple students can share a workspace, as well as a small DVD library.

Library East Commons

A key theme that Charlie wanted to focus on in this area is flexibility – to give the user control of how he/she utilizes the space. Thus, furniture is lightweight and easily movable.  One feature that the commons has serendipitously acquired was movable extension plugs that hang from the ceiling.  These were actually left by the electricians during the renovation, but Charlie decided to keep them so that laptop users were not restricted to areas where there was an outlet. I cannot tell you how many times I have been frustrated going into a Starbucks , bookstore, or other WiFi hotspot and not be able to use my laptop because all the seats near an outlet were taken. During long study hours, a laptop battery usually will not last.

Students even have flexibility over the lighting.  Charlie implemented RBG overhead lighting (similar to what is used in stage lighting), instead of fluorescent lighting. Students can customize the amounts of red, green, and blue in the lighting to something that is easier on their eyes.

2 West Commons

This area is located on the second floor. It is a very open workspace for collaborative projects. It contains large, restaurant-size booths and tables for study groups to meet, or for individual studiers to spread out (especially for the architecture students).  Collaborative work areas are partitioned by translucent screens to give the study groups a sense of solidarity without making the area seem too claustrophobic.  I have also seen students here utilize whiteboards to work on complex  math problems or tutor others.

What’s next?

In the next post, I will discuss my thoughts about the renovation and how these improvements have affected users.