Learning Commons blends learning, coffee and conversation

Construction crews barely had a chance to pack their equipment before students moved in and started making full use of York’s new Learning Commons, which marked its official opening on Oct. 20.

As University community members gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony in the atrium of the Scott Library, they witnessed a steady stream of students entering the Learning Commons.

Above: From left, former Ontario premier Ernie Eves (LLB ’70), York University Libraries Advisory Council Chair Isabel Bassett (MA ’73, Hon LLD ’01),  York student nominee on the Board of Governors Bryan Zarnett, York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, Associate University Librarian Mark Robertson and Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, York’s associate vice-president academic learning initiatives, cut the ribbon during the opening ceremony at the new Learning Commons. Not pictured is University Librarian Cynthia Archer, who was one of the officials participating in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

For years, students have gathered in hallways, coffee shops, empty classrooms and other places around the Keele campus where they could rev up their laptops, work on group projects, study with friends or simply spread out their books. The opening of the Learning Commons with its blend of quiet and collaborative study spaces, learning supports and new technology has attracted students back to the library.

“The Learning Commons at Scott establishes a new benchmark for study space in Ontario universities and will be a tremendous benefit for our students,” said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (right) to those gathered for the opening ceremony. “And at the core of every student’s learning experience is the campus library – after all, students spend a great deal of time there.”

Fourth-year visual arts student Jessica Butler, one of many at work in the Collaboratory, a relaxed area with sofas, easy chairs and tables that can be arranged for group or individual study, said the makeover has changed her opinion of the library. “The library has gone from a place I used to avoid because there were never enough seats, to a place that I can look forward to for studying.nds.”

About two-thirds of the second floor of Scott Library was renovated over the spring and summer to create spaces for quiet and group study, and a hub for academic supports and services. It is also a place where students can eat, drink coffee and work collaboratively.

The Learning Commons will continue to grow as continuing renovations create additional Learning Commons areas, said University Librarian Cynthia Archer.

Above: Two hours after construction crews completed work on the Learning Commons, York students were taking full advantage of the Collaboratory

York University Libraries Advisory Council chair Isabel Bassett (MA ’73, Hon LLD ’01) and former Ontario premier Ernie Eves (LLB ’70) will spearhead the Learning Commons campaign to raise funds for the second and third phases.

Subsequent renovations will include:

  • “Smart” classrooms equipped with up-to-date multimedia technologies to support learning.
  • More group study rooms and areas for quiet study.
  • An airy quiet study room with floor to ceiling windows.
  • A revitalized library atrium providing informal space for student exhibits, displays and cultural programs.

Many of the ideas for the Learning Commons were the result of consultations with students, said Associate University Librarian Mark Robertson. Robertson, together with Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, associate vice-president academic learning initiatives, co-chaired a committee of faculty, librarians, staff and students who developed and refined the concepts and programming for the Learning Commons.

Above: The Hill, part of the Collaboratory, offers a terraced seating area where students can plug in and stretch out

“We heard about many things: the importance of comfort, technologically rich spaces, warm and lively esthetics, and academic services,” said Robertson. “We learned that students wanted differentiated spaces for different needs and different kinds of learning; spaces that could accommodate both quiet and dynamic work, individual and group work.”

“We are confident you will see these themes in evidence as you explore the new Learning Commons,” he said.

Fisher-Stitt said the Learning Commons offers new possibilities not only for learning but for teaching, with a blend of services including support for research, writing, learning skills and career services.

“Students who visit the Learning Commons have access to drop-in and group sessions that provide them with an introduction to academic literacies,” she told the crowd at the opening.

Left: University Librarian Cynthia Archer with Bryan Zarnett

These literacies, said Fisher-Stitt, offer students essential skills that move them beyond the too-often pursued model of gathering information, deciding its sequence on the page and then writing. Instead, students can learn how to effectively plan their work, take notes, conduct their research, and reflect on what they have learned before writing. “This is the experience that we want our students to have,” she said.

And it appears they are getting this experience. Those behind the creation of this student-friendly space couldn’t be happier. “As you can see, students are already taking advantage of the Learning Commons,” chuckled John Thomson, manager of facilities for York Libraries, as he gestured to the groups of students working in the Collaboratory. “Isn’t it great?”

To learn more about the new Learning Commons at York University, see YFile, March 1, March 22, and Oct. 20, or visit the York Libraries website.