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The Seattle University Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons

The Learning Commons Partnership

by Lydia Bello and Jan Hartley

When Seattle University’s Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons opened in the fall of 2010 it was the culmination of over 10 years of planning.  The building project included the renovation of the existing Lemieux Library (80,000 square feet of white marble built in 1966) and a three-story addition (35,000 square feet of brick and glass.)  The opening of the building also marked the beginning of the Learning Commons Partnership (LCP); five programs in support of student learning and research, prominently located in the library building, in a core area of the university campus, and easily accessible to students. 

(Photo by Josef Kalinko)

The Learning Commons & Learning Commons Partnership

A primary goal of the building project was to consolidate and strengthen existing student academic support services by bringing together key support units into a Learning Commons that would transform and support learning and scholarship for both traditional and contemporary users.  From its early inception the Learning Commons was envisioned to be a learner centered environment that was collaborative, interactive, stimulating, adaptable, and social.

(Photo by Marketing and Communications Team, Lemieux Library)

Former University Librarian, John Popko, considered multiple academic support units on campus for the Learning Commons but ultimately the Provost made the final selection.  The initial LCP included Learning Assistance Programs, Research Services, Writing Center, and a Speaking Center for public speaking practice and feedback led by the Communication department.  Bringing together these independent units that valued their own culture and programming as well as different university reporting structures and budgets was a challenge.  Many worried about what aspects of their operation they would need to change or let go.  There was also a willingness among the units to collaborate and to build something new.  A critical first step was learning about each other’s culture and respective professional standards through meetings, readings, and discussions.  Input on the design of the physical Learning Commons space was also a challenge as all four units had to fit within a limited footprint.  By the time the building opened priorities had shifted, and the Speaking Center was withdrawn, and the Math Lab was added.  In 2013 the library’s Media Production Center was officially added as a member of the LCP.

The five current partners occupy the first and second floors of the library and are prominently visible near library entrances.  Designated LCP consultation spaces during the day become student study spaces in the evening and on the weekend.  In addition, the entire Learning Commons space can be used to expand the 24x7 study space during finals week.

The success of the Learning Commons concept was immediate.  The Learning Assistance Programs, Math Lab, and Writing Center, which previously were in small spaces spread across campus, now had visibility as well as use of the entire library building (instruction rooms, group study rooms, etc.,) for additional programming.  Appointment requests for peer-tutoring, writing consultations, and Math Lab student drop-ins immediately increased.  The library’s traditional reference desk evolved into a student staffed iDesk, and Research Services Library Faculty began mobile phone “on-call” service hours.  The addition of the Media Production Center broadened the scope of the LCP by adding film and media production to the overall suite of available services to students.  

The Five Partners of the LCP

The five partners that make up the Learning Commons Partnership continue to have different university reporting structures, but all work together to provide a coherent and helpful experience for students.  Each partner has a director or manager along with full time staff and/or student workers.  A full time Senior Administrative Assistant supports the work of all the partners.

Learning Assistance Programs reports to the office of the Director of Academic Services and is run by a Director, two Learning Specialists, a Graduate student, student consultants and student office assistants. Student consultants provide peer tutoring and facilitate study groups and conversation groups for specific classes.  The Learning Specialists offer individual learning strategy and academic coaching sessions focused on improving learning and study skills. Learning Assistance Programs also offers learning strategy workshops on helpful learning skills.

The Math Lab reports to the Chair of the Mathematics Department and is run by a Director (who is also a member of the Math Department faculty) and Math Lab student tutors.  The Math Lab is a drop-in service that supports students in first and second year math courses and provides a communal space for students to work on their math coursework.  Math Lab student tutors provide one on one drop-in help a question or two at a time.

Media Production Center (MPC) reports to the library’s Director of Library Systems & Technology and is run by a Manager, a Library Technician 3 staff member, and student workers.  The MPC offers tools, expert help, and space for students, faculty, and staff to work on multimedia projects. The MPC has an open editing lab, recording studio, editing rooms, screening room, equipment available to check out, and offers workshops and tutoring for available equipment and tools.

Research Services reports to the library’s Director of Public Services and is staffed by the Research Services Library Faculty.  This department helps with any stage of the research process, from topic development to strategies for evaluating sources. Research Services offers both an on-call reference and individual research consultations.

The Writing Center reports to the Chair of the English Department and is run by a Director (who is also a member of the English Department faculty), and Associate Director, student writing consultants and student office assistants.  Similar to the Learning Assistance Programs, the Writing center uses a peer consultant model to help at all stages of the writing process. One-on-one consultations are hour long conversations set at any stage of the writing process, and the student can bring in any type of writing.  The Writing Center is currently experimenting with online writing consultations.  

A Collaborative Partnership

The LCP Steering Committee, led by the Director of Public Service & Coordinator of the Learning Commons Partnership, meets every two weeks to discuss ongoing initiatives, share news, give updates on events, and brainstorm ideas.  This committee works to build a sustainably collaborative environment. 

LCP partners emphasize referrals to the other partners’ services and work to reduce barriers for students by encouraging them to try a new service that will assist their academic success.  The LCP is part of the campus culture.  Students know they do not need to leave the building if they need help with research on a topic, editing a writing assignment, tutoring on a specific subject, solving a math problem, or assistance with equipment to work on a media project. It is all in one place. 

The partners also collaborate on projects throughout the year to boost student use of all the services including fall quarter Welcome Week Game Night, winter quarter Long Night Against Procrastination (LNAP), and spring quarter Undergraduate Research Award. Each of the partners promotes the other services to the various campus groups they engage with, building new relationships and contacts.  Since 2013, the partners have collaborated in a learning commons version of a personal librarian program for transfer students in their first quarter at Seattle University

Partners assess their services individually and periodically work together on formal and informal assessment to learn more about use of services and to get feedback on ways to improve the service.  The transfer student outreach program was assessed as part of ACRL’s Assessment in Action program and led the LCP to make iterative changes to their transfer student outreach program. 

Research consultation at the Long Night Against Procrastination (LNAP). (Photo by Brittany Hammer)

Students at Welcome Week Game Night. (Photo by Brittany Hammer)

Moving forward towards Student Success

In an interview prior to the opening of the new and renovated building, the former University Librarian John Popko commented that the goal of the Learning Commons was “to make us a leader in support of the pedagogy that emphasizes group projects, teamwork, peer consultations – the social dimensions of learning that take place outside the classroom”.  This pedagogy is now seen in full bloom thanks to the work of those who work in and lead the Learning Commons Partnership.  But there more work to be done.

As the LCP begins its second decade of operation a new Seattle University wide strategic initiative for Student Success is on the horizon.  Current Dean of the Library Sarah Barbara Watstein has set the strategic priority for the Library and Learning Commons to “move the needle on student success internally and on campus.” To enable Seattle University students to thrive academically, professionally, and personally the challenge will be to further expand the scope of the Learning Commons and the LCP and to align and facilitate new partnerships with other campus departments, divisions, and administrative units.  Moving forward, the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons and the Learning Commons Partnership will continue to provide leadership and guidance to improve student success outcomes for undergraduate and graduate students on our campus.  

Copyright 2019 by Lydia Bello and Jan Hartley.

About the Authors:

Lydia Bello is a Research Services Librarian and the Liaison to the College of Science and Engineering at the Lemieux Library & McGoldrick Learning Commons.  An early-career librarian, she is interested in information literacy instruction and bad science puns. Outside of the library, she likes exploring National Parks and eating at farmers markets.

Jan Hartley is the Director of Resource Acquisition and Management at the Lemieux Library & McGoldrick Learning Commons and was a part of the 10-year building planning process.  She believes in a healthy work/life balance so spends her out of office time watching baseball, making macarons, and watercolor painting.