Libraries combine into “info commons”

A new “info commons” will integrate several disciplines after the Social Sciences Library is torn down to make room for the new residential colleges.
A new “info commons” will integrate several disciplines after the Social Sciences Library is torn down to make room for the new residential colleges. Photo by Sagar Setru.

The construction of the proposed new colleges is squeezing the sciences and social sciences into Yale’s first “info commons.”

Librarians at the Social Science Library and Kline Science Library are already preparing for a cross-disciplinary merge, loading hundreds of thousands of books into wheeled bookshelves in trucks for transportation. Next fall, Kline will inhabit the Social Science Library while the Kline Library is completely remodeled into an “info commons”: a combined library, statistics laboratory and collaborative study space. The Social Science Library building must eventually be torn down to make room for the new colleges, so the two libraries and the Social Science Research ITS StatLab will move together into the remodeled Kline Library, tentatively named the “Center for Science and Social Science Information,” next winter.

The libraries have already sent roughly a combined 200,000 volumes into storage to make room for the upcoming transitions. Despite the hassle, representatives of both libraries and the StatLab said they saw the merge as a positive opportunity for increased collaboration.

“It’s like moving dominoes around,” said Jill Parchuck, director of the social science library. “I think we’re feeling pretty good about it at this point.”

Parchuck said lab technology, library volumes, and study and meeting spaces will be interspersed throughout the new space to encourage cross-field collaboration. Parchuck said many universities have been building combined library-technology-meeting spaces, or “info commons,” of this nature. She added that Bass Library, with its technology stations and study rooms, is in line with this trend, though StatLab manager Themba Flowers said Yale was not ready to fully embrace the idea when Bass was built.

“Yale has been edging towards info commons types of spaces,” Parchuck said.

Universities are slowly embracing the info commons, Parchuck said. Princeton’s science library, Columbia’s business library and Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences library, the David B. Weigle Information Commons, all call themselves info commons. Harvard has similar spaces, though it has not yet embraced the term, she added.

The StatLab is also polling students about their ideas for the new space, with an online survey that will be live through Feb. 14.

Parchuck said the libraries and senior architect Jo Cohen are looking to peer institutions to develop the space. Emory University, which Parchuck said built one of the first info commons, used heavy furniture that made design change difficult, and Yale’s info commons will use lighter furniture without moving to the funky beanbag-chair look of Georgia Institute of Technology’s commons, she said.

Reshuffling to accommodate the new colleges may be time-consuming and expensive, but it is also bringing departments geographically closer in a way that may prove good for the University.

Kari Swanson, director of the science libraries and information services, said research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, citing people who currently use the Kline Library to study science and environmental policy for social science research. She added that the StatLab has historically served people from the hard sciences.

Parchuck said there is more overlap between science and social science fields than people realize. For example, the Social Science Library houses NASA records that relate to policy.

The technology that will be added to the library should also enhance research, Swanson said, adding that combining texts and computers in the same place will aid scholars.

“It’s a more efficient use of our space and enables us to provide services that we don’t currently offer,” Swanson said. “Our future is sort of one-stop shopping for services.”

While the StatLab previously housed only PCs, Flowers said the info commons will feature both PCs and Macs, as the numbers of students who use each type of computer are about even. The new computers will carry science-specific programs such as the SciFinder Scholar Chemistry Database, programs previously available in the StatLab and other offerings now found at social science computer clusters.

Flowers said the new info commons might also be used as a primary study space for students in the new colleges who do not want to walk all the way to Bass or other libraries.

Both libraries are opening up space by sending books to a storage facility in Hamden, Conn., where Parchuck said they will be available for recall within a 24-hour period. The Social Science Library has sent 75,000 volumes and will take 80,000 to Kline, while Kline has sent 124,147 volumes and will ultimately maintain 100,000 of its 360,000. The new library will have a total of 180,000 volumes on site.

The Social Science Library has used an algorithm that counts how many times a book has been checked out in the last decade to scour its collections electronically and decide which books should go into storage, Parchuck said. No books checked out within the last year were sent off, she added.

Swanson said the libraries are also sending off duplicates and acquiring more electronic material.

Neither Webster nor Urban Dictionary has a definition for “info commons” yet.

Comments