Six Ways to Feed Innovation in Your Library

Idea concept with row of light bulbs and glowing bulb

By Dian Schaffhauser

“Once the initial dazzle of your new (or remade) library has worn off, just how do you keep up the pace and flavor of innovation? An expert from North Carolina State University offers her take.

When the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University opened in 2013, it seemed nary an innovation was left out. The 225,000‐square‐foot building includes multiple display walls running at a resolution six times better than high-def; a whacked out game lab; a wide visualization space; creativity studios; nearly a hundred group study rooms and learning spaces; glass walls and writable surfaces anywhere you might lay an erasable marker; bookBot, a robotic book storage center with capacity for 2 million volumes; reconfigurable seating and tables everywhere (including a reported 60 different types of designer furniture); plus high-performance computing (HPC) and high-speed storage.

It took 98 pages for the university to describe the entirety of the wonders of the Hunt Library in its application for the 2014 Stanford Prize for Innovation in Research Libraries (which it handily won).

And yet that was four years ago. Just how long does the shelf life on innovation last?

Already, said Emily Lynema, the associate head of IT and director of academic technology for the libraries, the organization has begun pondering the “refresh” of Hunt. The innovations probably won’t be so “blue sky,” she suggested. This time around the focus will be on what the faculty and students “are actually doing” and what Hunt can do “to support those needs.”

Lynema is no slouch herself. Last year, she won the “Rising Star Award” at Educause, an honor she called “very big and unexpected.”

In a recent interview with Campus Technology, Lynema offered several strategies for continually feeding innovation.

1) Play “Hopscotch” on Campus

While Hunt is the library for the university’s newer Centennial Campus, located about two miles away is D.H. Hill Library, serving the main campus. Ever since Hunt opened, the two resources have been playing innovation hopscotch, feeding off the best and most popular ideas surfacing in each.

While Hunt patrons enjoy a 270-degree visualization space, for example, Hill now has a 360-degree projection space. Hill is just getting ready to open a virtual reality studio with “room-scale” VR sporting Oculus Rift and Vive gear; Hunt will eventually get a “smaller setup.” Hunt introduced the idea of the “graduate students’ commons,” with access limited to those students as well as faculty; Hill recently adopted the same idea. Hill is equipping its group study rooms with technology that’s “similar” to what Hunt already has.

“We’ve been pulling a lot of things back and forth between the buildings,” said Lynema. “We want them both to be positive destinations for students, and they really are.” A lot of the staff — particularly at the managerial level — work across both buildings, which helps them to “see the big picture of supporting the university,” she noted. Likewise, both sites are “utilized very heavily by students,” though Hill sees more daytime foot traffic because there are more classrooms on its campus; Hunt sees a lot of evening traffic “because there’s good parking.”

2) Sometimes Innovation Just Comes Knocking

Amazingly, the original plans for Hunt didn’t include that current mainstay of innovative libraries — the makerspace, a trend that isn’t “exactly new,” Lynema observed. A makerspace was only added to Hunt near the end of the renovation project, because a member of the staff suggested it might be a good feature. The problem by then was that there was no space for it. “So we took a storage closet that was maybe 10 feet by five feet and made this little space with 3D printers,” Lynema noted. The printing work is handled by staff because the space isn’t “big enough” to accommodate students too.”

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