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

Home  |   Proposal   |   Site Visits   |   Readings

Information Commons and Learning Commons Site Visits

Site Visit: Elon University - Carol Grotnes Belk Library
Contacts: Kate Hickey, Library Director
Web Site:
Organizational Structure: Traditional Library Organizational Structure, not merged with Instructional and Campus Technologies but strong partnership

Library Building

New Library Building completed in 2000 by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbott,
 75,000 square feet

Date of Visit: April 17, 2007


Elon University, located in Elon, North Carolina, is a comprehensive university with both majors in the arts and sciences and professional programs. They have approximately 5000 undergraduates, 380 graduate students, and 290 full-time faculty members. The library has roughly 265,000 volumes with 25 staff members including 12 librarians. Although their building design reflects the Information Commons concept throughout its spaces, they prefer to call it "The Library" since the facilities and services promoted by the Information Commons model are fundamental to today's library buildings and services. The Belk Library is an inviting space with plenty of natural light from a central elliptical skylight and many arched windows throughout.  There are a variety of spaces for technology use, study, and reading. The low shelving utilized on the first floor opens the view all the way to the back windows of the library.  The use of cherry wood in the computer furniture, desks, and stack end panels coupled with the use of soft colors in blue, green, and yellow provide a warm and comfortable atmosphere.

 A library floor plan is available at

Skylight over the Information Desk - drawing the user
into the Library
High Arched windows with oak leaf stenciled ceilings
Low shelving opens the space and provides more
natural light
Computers arranged in a curving table design throughout
the first floor
Comfortable seating area on the first floor Lovely windowed reading and study areas are found
throughout the library

Description of Services and Facilities

The primary technology commons area is located on the first floor surrounding the centrally located Information Desk. The Information Desk is staffed by a librarian and a technology assistant to handle both research and computer related questions.  This integrated service desk model has been very successful at Elon.  This first floor is designed to be active space and create a certain amount of noise from students socializing and collaborating on group projects. There are 148 computers throughout the building with additional data and electrical outlets on tables and in carrels.

Computers in Commons area on First Floor Computers in Commons area on First Floor
Computers in Commons area on First Floor Four Print Workstations are located in this first floor area
Information Desk with stations for a librarian and a
technology assistant

Other library service points surround the commons area and are easily visible from almost any location on the first floor.   These service areas include Circulation, Media Services, and the Copy Center.  Media Services is one arm of the Instructional Technology Services department which includes Event support, television support, and media services.  They check out laptops, data projectors and other equipment and offer a very popular media production service to the campus community.

Circulation Desk Media Services entrance
Media Services - service desk Media Services available and price list
Copy center -- enclosed to reduce noise levels  

Tutoring Services, The Writing Center, The Instructional Design and Development Department (IDD), and The Student Technology Center are also located on the first floor. 

The Student Technology Center offers high end multi-media and digital equipment for students to use in creating scholarly digital productions. This lab is staffed by elite students from the Instructional and Campus Technologies Department.  It is a prestigious job for which students must interview and compete. These elite students work with students needing assistance in the lab on an individual basis.

The Instructional Design and Development Department (IDD) has 8 offices and a faculty lab off from the first floor of the library.  IDD staff help faculty integrate technology into traditional and online classroom environments.  They offer a variety of workshops, work with faculty in their lab located in the library, or more frequently go to the faculty member's office to provide assistance.  A complete list of their services can be found at  Though located in the library, IDD staff work for Instructional and Campus Technologies. 

The IDD faculty lab can also be used as an overflow from the Student Technology Center located next door.

Tutoring Services - Peer tutoring has doubled since
the Library opened.
Writing Center
Student Instructional Technology Lab Collaborative Monitor in Student Instructional
Technology Lab
Work area in Student Instructional Technology Lab Faculty Instructional Technology Lab - larger computer monitors display what is on the projection screen so users do not have to keep turning their heads.
Offices for staff working with faculty on incorporating
technology into the curriculum

There are 21 group study rooms throughout the library equipped with data and electrical outlets and white boards.  Elon has found a greater need for more, smaller sized group study rooms so they plan to divide a few of their larger group study rooms. There is also a larger seminar room that can be reserved for group use. When not reserved, it is available for anyone to use but it is not scheduled for regular academic classes.

A Library classroom located on the first floor is surrounded by windows.  The windows are really wonderful for publicizing the availability of library instruction and for making the room freely available to students when not being used for instruction. There is a second library classroom/computer lab located on the second floor for students wishing to get away from the noise and social activity on the first floor.

Seminar Room Group Study Room
Library Classroom Windows looking into Library Classroom
Library Classroom/Computer Lab on 2nd Floor  

Governance and Strategic Fit

The new Library was part of the university's strategic planning process to strengthen the academic climate on campus. 

Although the Library and Instructional and Campus Technologies departments are not merged, the Library Director and the CIO have adjacent offices on the second floor and a successful partnership.  The computer consultants/technology assistants working at the Information Desk are part of the I&CT staff and are trained by them.

Collaboration and Partnerships

The strength of their collaboration with Instructional & Campus Technologies has greatly benefited library services.  The computer consultants working at the Information Desk help students with Blackboard issues, computer software and hardware issues and printer problems.  Although the Library, IDD, the Writing Center, Media Services, etc. report to different departments & VPs organizationally, they all work very closely together and offer a unified service delivery point to their users.  They also collaborate on a number of different projects and workshops, i.e. a recent Copyright workshop had presenters from both the Library and IDD.

One very interesting partnership exists with the Athletics department.  The Library provides an area on the second floor for an Athletic Structured Study.  A staff member from the Athletic department is there to help athletes with their homework.

Athletic Structured Study - Second Floor  

Impact on Collections

They have off-site storage for materials that are infrequently used.  All materials can be retrieved within 24 hours.

Reference and Instruction

All librarians provide reference support from the Information Desk.  Over 200 library instruction classes are taught each year.  Every class must have a course-related assignment.

Lessons Learned

  • Need flexible people to make all the services work together.

  • You can put people from several different departments together in one building -- sometimes chaotic -- but it works!

  • You can never have enough computer people in your building

  • Smaller group study rooms are more practical. Large rooms often only have one person using them.

  • Noise from the first floor does travel up to the second floor.

Observations Informing Best Practices

  • Librarians and technology consultants from the IT department can work together at the same service desk very successfully and it creates less confusion for the patron.

  • Friendly, flexible, and collegial people are the key to successful partnerships and provide the best integrated services to users.

  • Lower shelves on the first floor really open up the space and make it more inviting.

  • Student Technology Center is very successful using elite student workers.  Both workers and students needing technology help benefit from this arrangement.

  • Library classroom in the located near the center of first floor with windows for walls works beautifully and allows people to easily see when it is available.  A posted schedule informs users of upcoming library instruction classes.




Maintained by Susan McMullen, Roger Williams University, Sabbatical Project - Spring 2007