In today’s vast multimedia landscape, students no longer rely on the printed page as their primary resource for learning. Instead, they make frequent and steady use of digital media in support of their studies and research. Traditional library spaces have become less utilized as users shift to digital sources.

What’s more, collaborative learning and interdisciplinary teaching methods are becoming more commonplace, and require services and spaces not found in traditional libraries. A growing body of knowledge has sparked a call to a paradigm shift among educators. Student involvement, active engagement, increased time on task, peer and faculty interaction, and timely feedback are vital to academic success.

This growing need for expanded faculty development and interdisciplinary and team-teaching has resulted in innovative approaches to learning that create entirely new communities of learners. Education institutions must provide places that create common grounds for active engagement, places that foster social interaction, and places that form and celebrate communities. Leading educators embrace these concepts as fundamental, routine and non-negotiable.

Libraries that are moving away from the standard model of book access and storage must recognize the need to remain relevant to the students and faculty members they serve. To do so, they must make sure that their spaces support and optimize academic and intellectual success.

Why the library?

The library is particularly well-suited for driving academic and intellectual success. It can be the principal place for enhanced collaboration and socialization among faculty and students, and remain a place of experimentation regarding learning and space.

But before analyzing why the library is so well-suited for transformation, let’s take a look at how we got here.

Academic libraries have a long history of adapting to support campus needs. In the early 19th century, college libraries began changing to support transformations in curriculum. Buildings were designed and built to house larger and more diverse collections of books and periodicals. The typical library building for many campuses was situated prominently within the core of the campus.

These open structures are quite amenable to architectural change. Small carrels, quiet reading rooms, and desks and chairs were tucked amid stacks and shelves, contributing to a desired atmosphere of quiet, individual thought and study. This design philosophy prevailed from the latter part of the 19th century through the early 1990s.

Academic libraries also were among the first campus environments to effectively computerize large portions of work. This led to a period of intense collaboration. Librarians realized that more could be accomplished by sharing work and processes with their colleagues from across the state, and eventually across the country and around the world.