Just as good captains rely on maps when guiding their ships in unfamiliar territory, so can we chart our own courses from others’ work in exploring variants of the information commons model. Here at Valparaiso University, we rejected the idea of an “information commons area” separated from traditional library services and resources when designing our new building. Joining with our campus IT User Services colleagues and the Writing Center, we consider our model to be an attitude of service that encompasses our organization and includes the entire building. We purposefully include print and electronic resources together throughout the building with different types of service desks on separate floors. Creating this new facility provided the opportunity for us to consider change, but as evidenced in our model, new space isn’t always necessary. Collegiality with patron-centered customer service is our essential component. We believe the mix of resource formats and service areas on every floor emphasizes to students that all formats and services have roles to play in their research. In many ways, though, those of us staffing the building are keeping traditional roles. Reference Librarians and their student assistants are at their desk on one floor. On another floor, however, IT professionals and their student assistants combine their efforts with library media and circulation services to provide assistance. Our view of the entire building as one information-providing facility encourages staff from any department to go to anywhere the student needs assistance. Further supporting IT’s place as an academic unit, library and IT administration are also sharing office space. When bringing both units together under one roof, we considered issues such as core knowledge and training, hours of operation, student assistant job descriptions, codes of conduct and dress, and hiring and firing practices. Our collaboration with IT isn’t tied simply to the building. Working relationships over the past six years have heightened our collegiality, and exemplify the “information commons as a service attitude” model prior to our shared spaces. We first proved to ourselves that the people-side of this dynamic could work; this then made the concept of common workspaces easy to adopt. And while our cross-training focuses on essential core knowledge and referral skills, keeping our traditional roles allows the experts to do what they do well rather than develop a service staff that attempts to be all things to all people and not do any of it well. Patrons who can’t be helped at one desk will be referred directly to an identified expert, not shuttled endlessly along. By sharing our year-long outcomes with this service model and provoking candid discussions concerning its workability, we will empower our audience to provide similar grassroots leadership for collaboration on their campuses. Visual and documentary support (photographs, charts, and handouts) will enhance this session but the primary goal is to promote conversations among attendees on this “new” twist to one of today’s top issues in the academic library community.
Mileham, Patricia, "The Information Commons Service Model: Off the Map and Through the Rapids" (2005). Library Faculty Presentations. Paper 16.