the emergence of the learning commons

Chapman Commons at UBCAs Marcia J. Bates tells us, we gain knowledge when “information [is] given meaning and integrated with other contents of understanding” (1036). Giving students access to information is not enough. Library design has therefore been moving away from the more traditional information commons and toward a learning commons (Sens).

What is a learning commons? Richard A. Holmgren describes it as a space that:

  • Includes a range of services, such as writing services, IT support, a library reference desk, tutoring services, food and drink, and more (178).
  • Offers various workspaces, including some or all of couches, tables, desks, study rooms, traditional carrels, access to multimedia tools, and so on (178).
  • Supports students as they work either independently or in collaboration, and seek assistance from others (178).

In “12 Major Trends in Library Design,” Thomas Sens identifies the emergence of the learning commons as one of the important recent trends in library design today. He states that “the commons has become the heart and soul of the academic library…. [it] has become a blend of computer technology services and classical library reference and research resources. It serves as a hub for students to gather, exchange ideas, collaborate, and utilize multiple technologies” (Sens).

In “Designing for Uncertainty: Three Approaches,” former Yale librarian Scott Bennett identifies some issues with the information commons and contrasts it with a learning commons:

Genuine collaborations among historically distinct and physically separated student support services require immense attention, support, and nurturance. There is excellent potential for success, improvement to services, and epiphanies that lead to betteroutcomes for student academic success and productivity. (168)

Elsewhere, Bennett explains that while the information commons supports students’ independent “manipulation and mastery of information” (“Libraries Designed” 38), a learning commons is a more social, integrated, and flexible space. It enables students to work collaboratively and to adapt their environment to their varied and mutable needs; this in turn helps them “turn information into knowledge and sometimes into wisdom” (38).


Works Cited
Bates, Marcia J. “Fundamental Forms of Information.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57.8 (2006): 1033-1045. Wiley Online Library. Web. 10 Sept. 2012.

Bennett, Scott. “Designing for Uncertainty: Three Approaches.” Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33. 2 (March 2007): 165-179. Science Direct. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.

—. “Libraries Designed for Learning.” Council on Library and Information Resources, Washington, DC. (2003) Web. 7 Nov. 2012.

Holmgren, Richard A. “Learning Commons: A Learning-Centered Library Design.” College & Undergraduate Libraries, 17.2-3 (2010): 177-191. Taylor Francis Online. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.

Sens, Thomas. “12 Major Trends in Library Design.” Building Design & Construction, 50.12 (2009): 38-42. ProQuest. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.


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