Learning Terrace To Embed Library throughout Drexel Campus

March 15, 2011

A new library facility at Drexel University in Philadelphia is “the first step toward embedding the libraries across campus,” according to Dean of Libraries Danuta Nitecki.

The 3,000-square-foot Library Learning Terrace will be located on the ground floor of one of the campus’s residence halls. The space is intended to facilitate learning, rather than just house information, Nitecki said. It won’t have any books or computers, but it will provide wireless internet access and electrical outlets for laptops and mobile devices; flexible seating options to allow up to 75 students to work individually or collaboratively; and a space for tutors, faculty consultations, and study groups. It will also include an outdoor space for use in good weather.

The Terrace will be open for students 24/7. Library staff will not work there during set hours, but they will announce service times at the site for individual projects. Also, some faculty have shown an interest in holding office hours in the Terrace.

A 21st-century learning space

The concept for the Terrace grew out of a space assessment last year indicating that Drexel’s libraries, which include a main facility and two health sciences libraries, were undersized. At the same time, the library was trying to model what a 21st-century university library should be, particularly in an urban setting where real estate is quite expensive.

“The library is a learning enterprise,” Nitecki said. “We’re motivated by thinking of students as intentional learners” who will take responsibility for their own educational needs.

The library solicited feedback for its plans on its blog, through the student newspaper, and at two student forums that each attracted more than 100 attendees. “They weren’t there complaining or arguing—they had real interest in the issue,” Nitecki said.

Those meetings revealed that students did want more library space and they associated the library with study in a way that they didn’t with coffee shops or other third places. “Creating spaces and an environment that foster that is a challenge. There’s a growing culture of being interested in what it takes to learn,” Nitecki said.

While there are no specific plans yet, the library is exploring the possibility of developing a network of library hubs like the Library Learning Terrace throughout the campus. Other sites have already been identified as potentially suitable. In addition, “We think it will give us some insight into the kind of spaces that will help the students,” Nitecki said. The Terrace has already influenced the renovation of one of the floors of the main library into “a space that’s owned by the learner.”

The Library Learning Terrace is scheduled to open in May. Construction began in February, after the library finalized the decision to go forward with the project last September and identified a residence hall with space suitable to house it. The Terrace was designed by Erdy McHenry Architects, and the total cost was less than $900,000.