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Aug 30

Tips from the Trenches: From Learning Commons to Event Planning

Author: Cinthya Ippoliti, Head, Teaching and Learning Services, University of Maryland Libraries

Editor’s note: “From Learning Commons to Event Planning” is the first in a series of blog postings, “Tips from the Trenches,” by Cinthya Ippoliti.

From Learning Commons to Event Planning

Your learning commons is very successful, students are using your spaces and services and there’s a certain buzz and energy which surround these areas throughout the year. But wait, more campus groups have found out about your comfy furniture and reservable study rooms and are asking to use them for their workshops and events! Certainly a learning commons is not in the business of planning events…or is it?

This is exactly what happened at the Terrapin Learning Commons (TLC) at the University of Maryland, which occupies one floor of the McKeldin Library. So what have we done? We quickly realized that we needed an online form where interested groups could specify which of our various-sized rooms they wanted to utilize and for what purpose. Until recently, these requests have come in on an ad-hoc basis and the need outgrew our ability to effectively manage all of these competing events. We’ve had requests to host cocktail parties, coffee hours, peer-group tutoring sessions and a semester long class, all utilizing two larger rooms and a few smaller study rooms. For each event, we now ask groups to indicate how they want the furniture placed, what the expectations are for set-up and cleaning and how many people they think will attend. On the day of the event, we make sure the room is ready, post signs to alert students and make certain a staff member is available to help in case there are any last minute issues.

In addition, for those departments who wish to use our spaces on a more permanent basis, we’re forming specific partnerships that promote cross-marketing, sharing of student engagement opportunities and collaborating on using data and assessment systems. Our first partnership this semester is with the Graduate Writing Center who will occupy one of our larger study rooms for some of the activities mentioned above. In addition, we will cross-promote services on our respective websites, hand out flyers and giveaways from our TLC Tech Desk and capture this data via our LibAnswers system.

How is this possible you may ask? First, we have a strong internal partnership with our IT department who has been included in these conversations from the beginning. Portable instructor stations, laptops and easy to move furniture are the key to making these spaces as flexible as possible. Second, we have incorporated these services into the existing workload of our tech desk staff. Under the supervision of our TLC Manager, students are trained to check our calendar for the day’s events and fill out our checklist (this is still in development) to make sure they know what’s happening at any given time. Third, we announce daily sessions and workshops one of our monitors.

Final takeaways for this post:
o Find out what the need is on campus for library spaces if it doesn’t already exist
o Plan how you will support incoming requests and how you will allocate appropriate staff to provide this service-this does not have to be costly or complicated
o Look for ways to create deeper partnerships which may yield added benefits for the library down the road
o Finally, market and publicize the great work that results from these activities-you never know what hidden opportunities lie in wait