In the Digital Age, the role of the academic library is constantly evolving—and increasingly important. Constructed in 1965 to house thousands of volumes and provide a quiet space for research and study, Emmanuel’s Cardinal Cushing Library is transforming into a 21st century destination for communication, creation and collaboration among students. Welcome to the all-new Learning Commons.

In the summer of 2017, Emmanuel launched a multi-year initiative to transform the Cardinal Cushing Library into a modern Learning Commons—a vibrant hub of academic life and active learning beyond the classroom. Leading the project was Karen Storin Linitz, who became associate dean of library and learning resources in 2016 following the retirement of longtime director of library services Susan von Daum Tholl.

SHUSH-FREE ZONE: Whether writing a business plan or preparing for a Model UN Conference, students in the Library’s new Learning Commons can actively create knowledge rather than just acquire it. Collaboration encouraged.

A look inside the new Learning Commons

Linitz—who since 2011 had served as director of the College’s Academic Technology and Innovation Group (ATIG)—quickly identified the benefits of moving to a learning commons model, a growing trend in academic libraries.

“Many of our peer institutions have begun to move in this direction, so it seemed a natural progression for us,” says Linitz, citing Providence College, Regis College, Roger Williams University, Stonehill College and Wentworth Institute of Technology as a few examples.

The goals of the project, Linitz says, are three-fold:

  • Provide optimal study and collaboration space, along with tools and materials to facilitate learning and exploration
  • Increase academic-oriented programming that complements classroom-based learning
  • Streamline and simplify access to services including the Academic Resource Center, research support and information technology

Linitz emphasizes that all this must occur while assuring students ready access to the best print and online scholarly resources.

Re-envisioning the Space

When walking into the sunlit, two-story main reading room, one change is immediately evident—there are indeed fewer books. At the start of the project, Linitz and her team conducted a full inventory of the more than 89,000 volumes in the stacks, checking each for their age, physical condition and frequency of use. In the end, they culled the collection by more than half, donating or recycling the underused or outdated material and moving the remaining books to the second floor mezzanine, freeing up space for group study on the ground floor.

Student input was critical to the project. “We wanted to create a library that students really wanted to use, so we held open forums and administered a survey on the types of study spaces that were important to them,” Linitz says. “We found we needed to create a variety of options that accommodate group study, solo study and a quiet but still social space.”

Library Usage Is Up 92 Percent Over Last Year.

In response, Linitz and her staff “got smart” about zoning the library, identifying which areas would be reserved for quiet study and which would invite collaboration. The individual study carrels beloved by generations of Emmanuel students still line the back wall. Cubicles previously used as temporary faculty offices hold conference tables and chairs. (Glassed-in group study spaces are slated for a future phase of the Learning Commons project.)

Linitz, working with architects, determined the ideal dimensions for new shared tables that would provide each individual with adequate study space while increasing the number of available seats. These custom tables boast built-in power banks and motion-activated lighting, in direct response to student requests.

“Reaction from students has been very positive,” Linitz says. According to the bi-weekly seat count, library usage is up 92 percent over last year, and information literacy workshops have increased 20%.

Take a closer look at just a few of the enhancements to the Learning Commons, and learn more about how the Library is working to provide an innovative and engaging learning experience for future generations of Emmanuel College students.

Table Talk

Burning the midnight oil? No problem. The new tables have built-in LED lighting at each seat. An added bonus? The lights can be dimmed or brightened based on individual preference.

When searching for the perfect tables for the Learning Commons, the College didn’t have to look far. The new workspaces are custom-designed and hand made from sustainably sourced American cherry wood by Maine-based Thos. Moser.

Say goodbye to dead batteries and interrupted study sessions. Every table has built-in power outlets—248 in all—which were installed as a direct response to student requests.

Get your book to-go. The College added 3000 new e-books to its collection; increasing use of online materials by 15,000 full text downloads. For those new to digital resources, the Library also taught 170 information literacy classes to get students off on the right foot.

With 25,000 underused or outdated books donated or recycled, quality resources became much easier to locate. Even with less material to choose from, physical book circulation increased by 850 checkouts.

Hi, Neighbor! Though group work is supported, each seat at the new tables affords enough individual space to spread out for quality solo study time.

The Academic Heart of the College

The goals of the Learning Commons extend beyond providing a physical space. This academic year has seen an increase in library programming, including regular book talks, film screenings, and discussions of current issues.

Special events have included:

  • Strategic Thinking Week, featuring a human chess match in the main reading room
  • “The Truth about Fake News,” a panel discussion involving faculty members from the English, Biology, Business and Economics and Political Science departments, along with representatives of the Political Forum and student-run newspaper The Hub
  • “Number Numbness,” a presentation by Mathematics Lecturer Brendan Sullivan on how to interpret data and statistics in the news

“We want to collaborate with faculty and student organizations on unique and interdisciplinary programs that communicate to the Emmanuel community what it means to be part of a liberal arts and sciences institution,” Linitz says.

The coming months and years will see further enhancements to the Learning Commons, including further development of the DiscoveryLab, dedicated group study space and upgrades to systems and infrastructure.

Emmanuel Magazine | Spring 2018

Stay in-the-know on College initiatives and events with Emmanuel Magazine. The Spring 2018 issue explores Emmanuel’s commitment to providing a timeless education, at the same time as it embraces innovation to anticipate the evolving needs of students and to prepare them for an ever-changing world. From new academic programs to a reimagined Library Learning Commons, read more about how Emmanuel is educating students for the 21st-centry and beyond.

Download This Issue

Explore Emmanuel

Let's Get Started.

Emmanuel is a place where students broaden their sense of what’s possible and prepare for inspiring careers in an ever-changing world. Be here.