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Report of the Scholarly Commons Task Force

Introduction and Context


A task force was appointed by University Librarian Paula Kaufman on March 18, 2005, and met weekly (with few exceptions) from early April of 2005.  The task force’s focus was to assimilate several proposals that the University Library had received over the previous several months, obtain as much information related to the substance of these proposals, and issue a report on its findings, including recommendations for the future use of public services space in the Main Library building.  These proposals included one authored by Tom Kilton and Kathleen Kluegel, entitled “Our Shared Vision: A New Library for the New Century,” to improve access to collections and services for language and literature.  The proposal was reviewed by the Executive Committee, which agreed that it should form the core of a more expansive and intensive study. 


Another proposal was authored by Jo Kibbee.  This proposal focused on the future role of Reference and the current Reference Room.  The proposal, entitled “Central Reference Services: Vision for Our Second Century of Service” focuses on the vision of the Central Reference Department to merge into a general and humanities unit.


At about the same time Paula Kaufman received a proposal from Marianne Kalinke, transition manager of the Foreign Language Building and professor of German, in which she communicated that the departments of the Foreign Language Building are considering forming themselves into a school that would develop connections between disciplines and foster cooperation between departments.  Professor Kalinke, a member of the Library’s Long-Range Advisory Committee stated that “we believe that it would be in our interests as scholars, and in the library’s interests, to bring together in one room the … libraries that serve our units.”  She believed that there were several advantages to such a move:



As an example of other developments on campus, Steve Marshak, chair of the Department of Geology, informed the University Librarian that the departments of Geology, Geography, and Atmospheric Sciences had proposed the formation of a school and asked that the three collections serving these departments be consolidated into one library. (Atmospheric Sciences currently maintains its own library independent of the University Library System.)


The charge of the Task Force was “to look at these proposals and at a broad range of related issues, including the future of Reference, the desirability and feasibility of a research commons in the Main Library, and service to the newly-forming School that might have both a strong presence (physical and/or virtual) in the Main Library building as well as in the Foreign Language Building.”


At the same time that the Task Force was formed, there were several other developments underway in the Library that had some bearing on the work of the Task Force. First was the Stacks Reconceptualization Task Force, whose report was issued on March 24, 2005.  One recommendation of this report was the utilization of the original stack area on Deck five, which could house specific types of reference works. Two  members of the stacks study are members of this Task Force (Jo Kibbee and Betsy Kruger). The Access Services Task Force was also appointed to examine access to library materials in the main library building, including call-slips, holds, and reserves, with the aim being saving the time and effort of the user by reducing the number of places in the main library building where users had to visit in order to pick up books that were requested and to minimize the number of library staff involved in this type of work.  This study was undertaken by a group of librarians and staff from Circulation, Media and Reserves, and IRRC.  Two members of this group (Kruger and Burger) serve on this Task Force.  One other initiative that has a direct bearing on the group’s work is the development of a Learning Commons in the Undergraduate Library.  This project is led by Beth Sandore, AUL for Information Technology Policy and Planning and Stan Yagi, Director of CITES (Campus Information Technology and Educational Services) and coordinated by Lori Mestre, Digital Learning Librarian.  The purpose of this project would be to create a space that provides students with computing resources, depth of services, and a contemporary layout to respond to student needs and work habits and thereby make clear to instructors and students that the campus supports a research-oriented approach to instruction.  The resulting space would accommodate individual study as well as group collaboration for course-related activities, access to Library content and information resources and professional expertise, and access to computing technology and networked campus resources.


Defining the Purpose of the Work of the Task Force and Articulation of General Principles Governing Its Work


Because the Task Force had to assimilate several proposals, pending consolidations, and proposals in progress, much of the group’s meeting time was initially taken up with discussion of them and related issues. For want of a better term, we determined that our goal was to create a “Scholarly Commons” in the Main Library building. At some point, however, several major overriding observations and principles emerged, some of which may seem now to be self-evident.


Observations and Assumptions


The following points attempt to record some obvious facts about our current situation and to voice some assumptions underlying the principles that follow.




These principles and the glosses that follow them lie at the foundation of the two options that are given at the conclusion of this report.  There are other principles that are the occasion for presenting the two options, and those will be articulated under each option.  What follows, however, are those principles that found consensus among the members. Our major underlying principle is that the primary purpose of any rethinking of space should be improved service to the user.   We have grouped these principles under five rubrics, as noted below.


Benefits of Consolidation



The words are chosen carefully here.  We want patrons to have reference and research assistance, and access to print resources, reserves and interlibrary loan.  But this does not necessarily mean that all these services be present in the Scholarly Commons.  The Access Services Task Force Report, for example envisions a common holds area (for call slips, reserves, and other materials that have been requested by patrons (such as ILL).  The point of the item is that we optimize the time of the user.



Our original design of departmental libraries with resident expertise worked well when patrons needed to come to the library and search out that expertise.  At the present time user surveys and experience with patrons points to the disutility of this original design for today’s patrons.  As a result the subject expertise of many of our departmental librarians is not made available to as many patrons as possible. A Scholarly Commons and an attendant well designed reference/referral scheme can make this possible.



Government Documents are currently undergoing a sea change in terms of delivery of material to depository libraries and cataloging available commercially for them.  This in turn will affect the service provided to users.  Whether Government Documents finds a place in the Scholarly Commons or whether it moves in with another unit in the main library remains to be seen, but any future planning must take this vitally important unit and its services into consideration.  In our report, we have not indicated a future home for Government Documents.


Creating an Environment Conducive to Learning


A central reference service, supporting in-person use as well as virtual users and those who use other modes of access, will continue to be a vital part of the Main Library. The central reference service will serve as the primary point of contact for many users and will work collaboratively with the other Library units across the Campus to assist users in finding needed information regardless of format and location. The redesigned space will better facilitate the entire spectrum of activities and services.



User satisfaction surveys have shown that library users are attracted to spaces that are comfortable and conducive to research, almost irrespective of the services provided in them.  Our main library building no longer affords such comfortable and research conducive spaces.



Designated learning spaces, or classrooms, not only are increasingly essential to the library’s mission to promote library use, but they can also serve as places where students and faculty can practice for either class or conference presentations, using appropriate technology, in a space designed for that purpose.  The space does not necessarily have to be a traditional electronic classroom, but it does have to have an identity that segregates it from other spaces in the Library.



Our library surveys have confirmed that students desire an assortment of study areas, depending on the task at hand.  At some times this means an isolated, individual study area and at other times it requires a group space where lively discussion and debate can occur without bothering other library users.


Enhance the Availability and Scope of Information Technology



Library architects now recommend that one cardinal rule of library design is flexibility.  The information technology that we prescribe today may be supplanted by the next new thing in eighteen months.  Having stated this caveat, we envision an array of information technology support that will allow uses to be self reliant in creating documents (productivity tools) and will also provide them with means of sharing and integrating mixed media into their documents and presentations (e.g. self-service scanning stations, etc.)


Ensure that the Learning Commons and the Scholarly Commons are Integrated and Mutually Compatible



The terms Learning Commons and Scholarly Commons are bandied about in this report with the unwarranted expectation that they are commonly used terms that everyone understands.   


The Learning Commons is the first point of contact for undergraduate students.  It is a library with printed materials and ubiquitous access to electronic library materials.  It is the one place where students have access to all the different tools needed to complete an assignment, write a class research paper or complete a class project.  Its temporal parameter is a semester or less, focused on a single course that requires generalist expertise for assistance.  Students using a learning commons want to work on their project or assignment in one area from start to finish.  It incorporates all the inquiry tools necessary to accomplish the task at hand and at the same time to have technology to incorporate the findings into a final product.  The depth of the research carried out is shallow to medium depth, with depth constrained by the temporal parameter of one semester or less.  Here it is assumed that any required literacy skills are to be developed. These skills are retrieving and evaluating information, collaborating around information, organizing and analyzing information, creating information, and presenting information.  The type of space required is group study space, individual study space and instructional spaces.  The staffing required consists of personnel who have learning, teaching, and technical expertise.


The Scholarly Commons, on the other hand is the first point of contact for advanced subject inquiry.  It is a place that is in close proximity with printed materials, especially reference material, but because of the subject depth there are too many materials deemed relevant to have them in the same location.  Here students and faculty also have access to all the different tools needed to complete a project and carry out advanced research.  Its temporal parameter is longer than a semester, focused on in-depth projects that almost always require a librarian with advanced subject expertise.  The depth of the research carried out is medium to extreme depth, unconstrained by temporal parameters (i.e. the project may take years).  The project is also increasingly multi-disciplinary, requiring the collaboration of several areas within the main building.  In similarity to the Learning Commons it is also one place to have access to all the different tools needed to complete an in-depth assignment, seminar paper, thesis, dissertation, and other scholarly research.   In contrast to the Learning Commons, however, the required base-line literacy skills are assumed (retrieving and evaluating information, collaborating around information, organizing and analyzing information, creating information, and presenting information).  Any literacy instruction or aid would come in the guise of advanced subject literacy instruction in a particular field.  For staffing the Scholarly Commons requires expertise in the social science or humanities discipline and technical expertise.


The challenge in creating these two spaces is how to have a logical and intuitive flow and connection between the two.


Contribute to the Intellectual Life of the Campus



Obviously the Library is at the core of the intellectual life on campus, but its spaces no longer are the “venue of choice” when presenting public lectures and other types of communal intellectual activities.  The Scholarly Commons Will enhance the Library and librarians as active agents in campus intellectual life.





As a result of our discussion and study we determined that given the possible implementation time-line (one to five years) and the rapid pace at which change is occurring in technology and service expectations, that it would be wiser to present two options for implementation.  Each of these will be described with attendant advantages and disadvantages.


Option A




With the name of Language and Culture Library and Commons (or LC2), this option identifies both the inclusiveness and the focus of the redesigned and repurposed space on the second floor of the Library.  It is conceptualized as a place that will meet the needs of many students, staff, faculty, and visitors with subject expertise, circulating collections of core materials, reference resources, both print and electronic, and the technological infrastructure needed to support research in the twenty first century.  It incorporates the rooms of the second floor that form an inter-connected U:  220-200-225 to create a variety of kinds of spaces to suit the varying needs of its users.  There will be specialized teaching/presentation space, most likely located in 220, because of the better suitability of that room to these activities.  220 will also be the place where the faculty and staff of the new unit will housed. 


Room 200 itself, with its 294-foot sweep of space, will accommodate a series of variously configured user spaces.  The term ‘user spaces’ encompasses implementations ranging from small areas of comfortable chairs to group study spaces and on up through clusters of a variety of technology-intense worktables ranging from digital video editing to CAD-CAM design.  A highly focused circulating collection selected from what is now the English Library and the Modern Languages and Linguistics Library as well as additional materials in language and culture from other collections (Latin American, Africana, and Afro-Americana, e.g.) will be shelved in the wall cases around the perimeter of the room.  Low cases serving as separators between the user spaces will house reference materials.  Additionally, exhibit cases will be deployed throughout the room and serve as visual dividers as well as collaborative instruction opportunities.  The print journal collections will be combined and shelved in what is now the Government Documents Library staff space with comfortable seating and work spaces.  It was designed as a journal reading room when it was installed back in the 1940s and which purpose it served until after the Undergraduate Library was built.  A service desk which will be the primary contact point in the room will be located near the center and also serve as a circulation desk and a reserves desk.  Room 225, currently the Slavic Library, will be expanded in scope to accommodate reference and other materials from additional area studies units.



  1. In keeping with the Foreign Language Building initiative, it brings together the collections and the expertise to serve a variety of disciplines;
  2. It supports the mediated interactions of users and subject specialists with the on-site circulating collections that are so critical to user success;
  3. LC2 will have the critical mass of equipment and staff to ensure technological digital expertise and support;
  4. Collaboration between Library faculty and teaching faculty in instruction and research projects would be enhanced;
  5. It promotes and supports inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary research;
  6. It brings collections and services currently hard to find and hard to get to into an accessible, open, and inviting space;
  7. LC2 will bring together sub-collections, both reference and circulating, currently divided by collection lines, e.g. international cinema and Hispanic-American belles letters;
  8. It reduces the duplication of reference materials and reference services;
  9. It reduces service points;
  10. The relationship between the LC2 and the Central Reference Service will be facilitated by proximity to one another and to the major reference sources located in 5 Front;
  11. The opportunity to create a LC2  integrated webspace with linkages to the entire array of resources will further support the unified approach to scholarship.



  1. As with every single solitary unit and function in the Library system, the name may not convey its full meaning to every potential user at first glance.  This can, of course, be remedied through publicity and user education;
  2. As with either option, noise and acoustic problems may arise in the Scholarly Commons;
  3. Maintains split circulating collections for Languages and Cultures materials housed in the main building.  Some materials will be available in Room 200, others in main stacks.


Option B




The Scholarly Commons reconceptualizes the use of the second floor of the Main Library to facilitate and support interdisciplinary scholarship and learning, particularly within a humanistic framework. With a focus on the library as place of discovery and collaboration, the resulting space places a strong emphasis on services and facilities such as centralized and subject-specialist reference service; instructional/public lecture/seminar rooms; exhibit spaces; advanced information technology computing facilities; and other scholarly support services. It also houses a core non-circulating print reference collection, as well as providing a reading area for non-circulating current periodicals for humanistic and area/global studies disciplines.  Rather than having regimented tables and chairs, the atmosphere of the Scholarly Commons will invite patrons to enter and stay, by not only providing needed services, but also a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere that contains a variety of seating and study spaces.




Humanities disciplines in general have expanded beyond their traditional content to embrace multi- and interdisciplinary approaches to humanistic studies, including those employed in the social sciences. On campus, we have cross-disciplinary programs such as the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (headed by an anthropologist!) and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory. In contrast, the library’s structure is more fragmented, with units representing separate fields. The Scholarly Commons is an attempt to pull together support for these cross-disciplinary endeavors. Due to the extensive collection of materials in the stacks and their close proximity however, this area is not conceived as another large departmental library. Moreover, faculty and students are involved in projects involving computing technology, from website development and digitization to software and database development.  These are at times integral to their research (e.g. Excel) and at times merely serve ancillary purposes to produce some kind of scholarly output (e.g. scanning technologies).


These issues are not unique to the UIUC Library. During the past few years, significant renovations of Reading/Reference Rooms have taken place in research libraries. (See Penn State , the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard These initiatives restored classic reading rooms, making them comfortable and aesthetically pleasing public spaces. Their collections generally focus on general and humanities reference. Reference services are provided by librarians at a Reference Center or Information Desk, generally located immediately outside the Reading Room, with computing facilities and instructional spaces in close proximity.  This option envisions the use of the current rooms 220, 200, and 225 as the Scholarly Commons, with the reference collection occupying the shelves surrounding the perimeter of room 200.  We assume that the current Government Documents library will be located elsewhere.  Initial user contact will be at the Information Desk, located approximately where it is now.  A core general/humanities reference collection (Western languages) will be in Room 200, which will also be a center of activity and interaction with subject and technology specialists, with spaces allotted for individual or small group study concentrating in, but not limited to room 220.  Room 225 will serve as an international studies area, covering both humanities and social sciences and housing specialized foreign language reference sources for those areas.  Because our two major social science libraries, ESSL and BEL are located on the first floor, mechanisms will be developed to coordinate service for patrons among the three service points.  The emphasis in the Scholarly Commons will be on user space, with most staff and librarian offices being located elsewhere in the building.


Care will be taken to integrate the Learning Commons in Undergrad with the Scholarly Commons in the Main Library as specified earlier in this document.



  1. It would consolidate humanities libraries in the Main Library building, their reference collections, and their circulating collections throughout the bookstacks to save the time of the user.  The circulating collections would be placed in the adjacent bookstacks and their selected reference works could be placed in the Scholarly Commons, where appropriate;
  2. It would bring together a skilled cadre of subject specialists in one service point;
  3. Reserves and holds and ILL would be centralized on the second floor of the library as specified by the Access Services Task Force, affording the user access to all services currently provided in several locations in the main library;
  4. It would integrate General Reference with other subject specialties, thereby providing the user with wider and deeper subject expertise;
  5. It would reflect the actual nature of humanistic and social science research, which is increasingly interdisciplinary;
  6. It would provide flexible use of the grand spaces, especially room 200;
  7. It would provide an environment where scholars and advanced students could find a comfortable and study-inducing atmosphere.



  1. In order to peruse any part of the collection or check any item out, the reader would have to enter the main bookstacks, whose entrance is located nearby on the second floor.
  2. As with either option, noise and acoustic problems may arise in the Scholarly Commons;
  3. It would disperse intentionally-assembled circulating collections that currently comprise important and heavily-consulted bodies of work.




Whichever option is chosen, or even if an entirely new option is formulated, there are several actions that can take place in the near term.  The following three phase plan is meant to be applicable to the acceptance of this concept in general.


Phase I  Timeline: As soon as possible


  1. Remove the ready reference collection at the main entrance of Room 200 and reshelve the materials among the rest of the reference collection;
  2. Remove the reference desks and other furniture from the entrance of Room 200;
  3. Have all units within the main library consider which items from their reference shelves should be placed in the core reference collection in the main bookstacks. (See Report of the Stacks Reconceptualization Taskforce.)


Phase II (Beginning as soon as possible and continuing until resources are in place to plan adequately for this change)


  1. Release the Task Force report to the faculty and staff for further discussion, including discussion at either a faculty meeting or meeting/forum called for this specific purpose;
  2. This discussion should take place in concert with discussion of the other related reports released earlier this year (Stacks Reconceptualization Task Force and the Access Services Task Force) as well as with implementation plans for the Learning Commons.
  3. These discussions and implementation of phases of the projects named above will help in determining what elements of this report are applicable in the new environment.


Phase III (Taking place after phase II is completed.)


  1. Implement the revised plan for the Scholarly Commons.


Members of the Task Force:

Bob Burger (Chair)

Jo Kibbee

Tom Kilton

Kathleen Kluegel

Betsy Kruger

Janice Pilch

Chris Prom