Neumann Library updates will create innovative learning spaces
The Alfred R. Neumann Library at University of Houston-Clear Lake is near completion of a renovation project filled with innovations in technology, collaboration, instruction and research.
"We had begun planning the renovation before the pandemic started," said Neumann Library Executive Director Vivienne McClendon. "We had additional funds, so we are renovating and refurnishing the entire main floor of the library."
She said their overarching plan was to make the library more accessible, and above all, to give students more agency about how and where they wanted to study and learn.
The library is also adding a new presentation space, an active learning classroom, and an XR lab, all intended to be flexible. The open presentation space in particular lends itself to "serendipitous learning."
"This means a student can serendipitously encounter something going on, like a presentation or a speaker, in this open area," she said. "Because there are no barriers or doors, students don't have to feel intimidated about just pulling up a chair and listening. Speakers can be via Zoom or in person, and we'll have huge open monitors on the wall. We'll be able to connect seamlessly to other locations."
The Active Learning Classroom is unlike "traditional" classrooms in that the instruction librarian is not anchored to a podium at the front of the room.
"The instructor can work from a mobile device and can control everything from anywhere in the room," she said. "We'll have monitors along the wall and the desks won't be connected to the walls, so everything is fully configurable. From a capability standpoint, this is much more than a lecture room."
Adjacent to the Active Learning classroom will be the new XR Lab, where faculty who use augmented or virtual reality headsets in class can take instruction a step further in collaboration with library staff.
"This is a place where students can come in and do their work using a headset," she said. "VR and AR are a continuum. Students can experience it, but it also creates the opportunity to create and design. There's a huge market for VR designers — it's the 'next thing' in technology. There are no limits here. The laws of physics just don't apply."
In the study areas of the library's second floor, the addition of under carpet power to the entire space frees students to sit and work anywhere they choose, instead of having to sit near an outlet along the wall. Wheeled, configurable furniture also allows students to easily transition between solo and group work.
"We think our students enjoy the 'coffee shop' feel, to be alone but near others, where they can choose to be collaborative or study independently," she said.
The new furnishings were selected to encompass the needs of all students — including students on the autism spectrum. "We've got nooks that are enclosed, but not actual rooms," she said. "We hope these nooks will appeal to everyone. They have a 'pressure' about them, a sense of coziness. They block out external stimulus, and they're on wheels so they're fully configurable."
The study rooms will also be technology-enhanced. Extra-large glass boards will replace blackboards, and walls will feature touchscreens. "Many study rooms will have monitors, so that students can connect their laptop to the monitor and work collaboratively on presentations and other work," she said. "The whole second floor, students should be able to connect wirelessly. This is a major plus for students; it's no longer necessary to remember connectors. Anyone can come in and discuss PowerPoints or group projects."
With innovative furniture and lighting selections, McClendon said she hoped students would quickly sense the library's new vibe.
Other amenities and services include a new Starbuck's coffee machine with a huge TV streaming news reports, and a new service desk for research assistance.
"We have added more ADA-compliant space for each desk to enhance accessibility, and the research assistants will be in a glassed-in area so everyone can see that we have librarian experts available to help students with their research," she said.
McClendon added that she hoped the library renovation would be complete sometime during the early part of the spring 2022 semester. New furnishings are regularly being delivered, unpacked and assembled, and new highlights such as the research desk, circulation desk, and much more are on the way. To stay connected to the library's renovation process, go online.