The Learning Commons Model:
 Determining Best Practices for Design, Implementation, and Service

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Information Commons and Learning Commons Site Visits

Site Visit: Bertrand Library, Bucknell University
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Contact: Kelly Stover, ISR Office Coordinator
Bud Hiller, Technology Support Specialist
Mary Jean Moser, Circulation Services Team Leader
Isabella O'Neill, Research Services Librarian
Martha Holland, Research Services Specialist
Jason Snyder, Research Services Librarian
Web Site:
Organizational Structure: Merged Information Services and Library in 1997
Date of Visit: March 22, 2007


Bucknell University is a highly selective, private liberal arts school located in central Pennsylvania.  They serve a FTE of 3500.  The library houses 750,000 volumes.  As a merged unit, ISR (Information Services and Resources) has a staff of 80+ staff members with 10 librarians. The integrated nature of their work calls for many information service professionals.  Information about ISR services and its staff, including strategic planning documents, vision and values, ISR publications, a staff directory, news and events, and A Guide to Working in ISR's Collaborative Work Environment can all be found at

The success of their merger has been achieved through a staff-driven re-organizational plan that involved numerous workshops, activities, retreats, and meetings to develop a collaborative work environment with a shared vision and values statement.  (  This collaborative vision and values drives their organization and puts customer service at its core. 

Bucknell offers a highly integrated approach to the Collaborative Building environment. They don't necessarily refer to their facilities as an "Information Commons", rather they see their staff, facilities and resources as an integral package of customer service to their faculty, students, and staff.  They continue to evolve and shift services and staff job descriptions as necessary to meet the needs of their users.  To learn more about the services they offer to Faculty and Students see their pdf guides located at  and

Description of Services and Facilities

There are three primary service points on the Main Level of the Library -- Circulation Services (including Equipment loan), the Technology Support Desk and Reference Services. The desks are all in sight line with one another and in full view as one enters the library, so the user's choices for help are easily visible.  With the action verbs that they use for signage (Borrow, Return, Ask), it is clear to the user which desk can meet his/her need.  If one drew a line between the three of them it would form a triangular shape. The Circulation Desk is closest to the front door.  Located between the Circulation and the Technology Support desks is a very popular cafe. 

The Reference desk offers two different heights - a counter height for student workers and quick reference and a lower desk height for librarians to work on projects and do research consultations.

The Technology Support Desk is designed to support three levels of support -- face to face, telephone, and inner offices for staff working on projects.

One of the most basic reasons for the three separate service points is simply that there is so much to learn at any one service desk.  Staff, especially student workers with limited work schedules, could not possibly learn everything needed to provide excellent customer service.

Circulation Desk  
Reference Desk on first approach from
library entrance -- high counter
Other side of Reference desk with low counter -- faces "Technology Courtyard"
Reference Services Desk Technology Support Desk
Technology Support Desk showing both higher
and lower heights
Cafe located between Circulation and Technology
Support desks

The Technology Courtyard is primarily located behind and to the sides of the service support desks.

Computer workstation  near Reference Desk Computer workstations near reference collection and desk

Adjacent to this computer workstation area is a large area designed for multi-media authoring and collaborative work.  This area is directly behind the Technology Support Desk.  Each area is quite large and has space for 4-5 people.

Multi-media workspaces Macs in Multi-media work area
One Multi-Media work space  

In this Commons area, they have also created seating for Cafe use, group discussion, and media viewing.  It is a very popular area for students to meet one another, work on projects, and enjoy a cup of coffee. The media viewing alcoves have built in TV/DVD/Video players and comfortable seating.

Cafe Seating located behind Central Staircase Media Viewing Alcove

Near the Technology Support Area is the Advanced Technology Lab.  This is a small space that is used to resolve hardware and network issues.  The Technology Support desk serves as the triage service point for this behind-the-scenes support area.

Advanced Technology Lab

There is a Teaching Learning Center available for faculty, however it is tucked away and down a long hall.  Staff working here wish it could be more accessible to their users.

Instructional Technology Enhancing the Curriculum  

The second floor not only houses the periodical collection but has room for students to work on collaborative projects with large display screens.

Room to Collaborate.  This area also houses the
Serials Department
Large Display Monitors and whiteboard for group work
and practicing Powerpoint presentations


Bucknell believes strongly in the power of communication in making their collaborative process work.  They even have a Communications Steering Group.  They hold weekly meetings for staff -- "Thursdays at 10:00"  All staff are required to go to meetings and participate.  They also use email and a blog.

Impact on Collections

To make more room for computer and multi-media workstations, the reference collection has been reduced by nearly 60%.  They have gotten rid of all print indexes and index counters.

Reference & Instruction Services

They are looking at ways to re-design reference, looking at more flexibility at the reference desk.  Any staff member in ISR, who has an interest, may serve on the reference desk with proper training.  They acknowledge the need to get past the attitude that only librarians can do certain jobs.

Instruction and collection development are provided through departmental liaisons.

Virtual Environment

Bucknell offers many services through its web site.  They have a "Right Answers" knowledge base that is available through a student login.  They have an ECare program for technology support, they offer web instruction, email and chat reference, and have a My Library feature in the university's Campus Portal.  Options for technology support are offered at (


Bucknell does have an Assessment Team which collects data, administers surveys, has a student advisory group, and forms other focus groups as necessary. This team creates an awareness of assessment within ISR and pulls things together to share with others. They have completed standard survey instruments such as LibQual and MISO.

Lessons Learned

  • Change will occur -- go with it and see where it leads you.

  • Continually evolve as needed.  Be Flexible.

  • Let people develop in different directions as their interests lead them.

  • Students cannot learn all duties - only expect them to handle certain skills in the areas they work in.

  • Service Desks for different functions work best because they ensure a better level of customer service with more highly trained staff.

  • Customer service is most important

  • Soft skills are very important

  • Communication, communication, communication

  • Everyone has to go to meetings and everyone has to participate.  They go to meetings even if they are not directly involved in the topic being discussed.

Observations Informing Best Practices

  • Communication, communication, communication -- meet often and regularly. 

  • Separate Service Desks for different functions are necessary because staff could not possibly learn all they would need to know to man an integrated service desk, hence customer service would be hindered.  Everyone can simply not do everything.

  • Only cross training occurs for the most common 10% of library services and questions.

  • Use the "Disney World" model for customer service -- stay with a customer until you find the right person to fill his/her need.

  • Get rid of study carrels, students prefer tables and open seating.

  • Have the same software on every computer in the building.