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November 4, 2010

A new space with infinite resources for students: The Research Commons

Step into Allen Library South’s ground floor and you’ll see a colorful room with furniture not typical in a library. That would be the brand new Research Commons, which officially debuts Nov. 9, although it’s already been in use by eager students who asked for what it offers.

With the growth of data-driven research and the need for collaboration, a new kind of space was needed, said Research Commons Librarian Lauren Ray. The commons is designed to provide technology and furniture that encourage people to gather and consult with each other about their research projects.

Ray has been a part of the project since April, when she was handed the vision created for the space. The space renovation was funded by the Office of the Provost with additional funding for technology provided through the Student Technology Fee and UWIT. The vision for the space focuses on collaboration among peers and across disciplines. The staff of the commons partners with different departments and writing centers in an effort to foster interdisciplinary conversations.

“This was especially important for graduate students. From research done in planning for the space, we learned that [students in] graduate schools wanted to learn more about research being done outside of their own department,” Ray said. “Through cross-disciplinary workshops, events and space design we hope to foster conversations between research communities at UW.”

The Research Commons space is very colorful. This design choice was in response to feedback gathered from the Research Commons Planning Committee last year and the recent UW Learning and Scholarly Technologies report, Designing Campus Learning Spaces. DLR, the architectural firm chosen for this project, conducted a design charette earlier in the year to gather feedback on furniture, color and layout from staff, faculty and students. Students wanted lounge chairs for laptops, which have also been integrated into the commons.

Booths for collaboration on projects are seen throughout the space. Ray hopes they will be used for collaborative work, teaching assistant consultations and librarian office hours. The space also includes residual PCs from Mary Gates, standing height tables, whiteboards on tables, screens for teaching, consulting, and plugging into four laptops at once, and conference rooms for students, faculty and staff to reserve.

Whiteboards are seen everywhere for collaborative projects and visual learning. In fact, there are rooms with white boards covering every wall. A large presentation area can be used for bigger workshops and events. The Research Commons has already hosted several well-attended workshops, including a Professional Development workshop sponsored by the Graduate School on writing successful academic job applications. This session, which was held on the opening day, attracted close to 80 students. Last week a Grants and Funding Information Service (GFIS) workshop, provided by the GFIS assistant working in the Research Commons, attracted close to 50 students.

“The activity is different each day. Yesterday it was buzzing, but at other times it has been quieter. The whiteboard walls seem to be the biggest draw right now for collaborative work.” Ray explains.

To continue to foster this scholarly interaction, Ray plans to create more events to draw people together. In fact the Grand Opening event will be on Tuesday, Nov. 9, at 3 p.m. with remarks by Interim President Phyllis Wise, Dean of University Libraries Betsy Wilson, Research Commons Librarian Ray, and Professor Albert Folch, Department of Bioengineering. Professor Folch’s Bringing Art IntoTechnology exhibit will be unveiled during the Grand Opening (See our story on the exhibit here.)

More information can be found on the Research Commons Development blog.