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Ok – Thread two from ALA now that I have had time to reflect on it is perhaps related to Info Commons. One of my big projects going into the fall is working with Mary Beth and coming up with a plan for a possible information commons on Reynolds 2. For Mary Beth and I, that meant going to sessions on commons as well as visiting lots of furniture vendors in the Exhibits hall to get a feel for what is out there that might be of use to us in a retrofitted space. The options range from completely custom furniture design – the benefit here is you get what you really need for your exact space. The drawback (other than cost) is that if you tailor it to fit your space too specifically, it becomes inflexible if your space or service needs change. On the other end of the spectrum are the prebuilt options from vendors like Demco and Brodart. Many of these are modular ( ) – so you can buy the parts you need when you need them and move or reuse them in other spaces later. These are the more cost effective and flexible options, but often lack the ‘sexy’ that the custom places provide. Almost all of the options we saw, however, have built in power and even USB charging stations, reflecting what we already know our students want. One of our favorites is Agati Furniture, especially their booths ( I’m hoping Mary Beth has some other pictures she can post of other cool concepts.

On Monday Mary Beth and I both attended a really great discussion group about combining service points. We heard from a wide variety of schools who have, or are considering, combining service desks and service points and heard cautionary tales, unforeseen consequences and the bugaboo that is signage in a combined environment. Mary Beth may have more to say but the thing that was most interesting to me was the variety of approaches to having Reference Librarians on the desks. Some places kept them, some got rid of them altogether at desks, another school moved them to another building; there were buzzer systems, iPhones and other ‘on call’ models to keep librarians within reach but not actually out at the desk. There are concerns about visibility of librarians when you take them off the desk, quality of service if students are your main points of contact with your public, how to manage on-call hours, VR and more. Many places have the luxury of having support staff and LIS grad students to staff the desks. One school took them off the desk and then had to put them back on because service suffered. Another place combined service points and their reference stats actually went down 40% (they don’t quite know why).

There is no right or wrong answer, apparently, to setting up a commons and you have to know your faculty, staff and students and what they expect in terms of types of services and level of service coming from a centralized desk. Most places planned for two or more years (even up to five years) before implementing a commons and even then mistakes were made and issues that were never considered popped up – for example, when you combine with other services on your campus (writing centers, technology help services, tutoring) and their cultures are different then you can end up with what it obviously an unhappy marriage at the desk. And if departments lose budgets or staff, you can find yourself with a service you can no longer offer at your main desk and if you have committed funds to marketing, signage and have built up customer expectations that a service is offered, you can be in trouble. The session gave Mary Beth and I a lot to think (and worry) about. I am sure she will have some specifics of what struck her in the session.