Story Student Success

Turning Libraries Into 'The Living Room of the University'

Angie Marcos

Gone are the days of the silent, musty stacks. In recent years, university libraries have had to do more to adapt to today’s students and faculty. And yes, that includes allowing coffee on the premises.

CSU libraries are implementing more collaborative spaces and resources that make more sense for today’s tech-centered students and faculty. Photo courtesy of Stanislaus State 


​​​​​​Gone are the days when a university library emanated only silence and studiousness. Nowadays, these institutions welcome some noise and plenty of collaboration; in fact, they're often encouraging it.

And that old "no food, no drinks allowed" rule? That's been ousted as well. Starbucks and other cafés have already become a staple at many colleges' libraries. 

While some still look for a quiet place to study on their own, more students and even faculty seek meeting spaces that offer a variety of on-site resources and professionals like IT staff, tutors, writing experts, and of course, librarians.

The library has moved from supporting passive learning to supporting multi-modal learning." - Dr. Clem Guthro, Dean of the Library, csu fullerton

More and more, university libraries are helping to meet these needs.

Though the mission of
CSU Libraries — to enhance teaching, learning, research, and scholarship — hasn't changed, many of the system's campus library deans have found themselves launching new programs as well as leading physical changes to their libraries.  

As students and faculty seek out a variety of study spaces — from quiet spaces for one student to spots for groups to gather – they also want places enabled with installed and borrowable technology and special software like music- and video-editing programs. Also on the list: comfortable furniture, options for grabbing a bite or a beverage, strong wi-fi, and no shortage of AC power plugs and outlets. ​

'The Living Room of the University'

"The library has evolved from its classic role as a container for collections to a central role in support for student learning, exploration, discovery, connections and cultural enrichment," says Karen Schneider, Ph.D., Dean of the Library at Sonoma State University.

In fact, she likes to call Sonoma State University's Library  "the living room of the university, where students study alone or together, congregate, relax, or simply reflect and refuel."

Clem Guthro, Ed.D., Dean of the Library at California State University, Fullerton agrees, adding that "the library has moved from supporting passive learning to supporting multi-modal learning," bringing together services like tutors, the library's reference desk and IT into a single location.

The librarian's role has also shifted; instead of being the sole "gate-keeper of information," as Dr. Guthro puts it, he or she is now a partner with faculty and leaders of the campus's development and academic centers, all with the goal of furthering student and faculty success.

"The internet has only made our roles as librarians more fun by exponentially expanding platforms to find, create and share information," adds Cyril Oberlander, Dean of the Library at Humboldt State University.

"As we shape our libraries to better support student success, faculty and staff development, as well as campus-wide events, we find engagement and collaboration are crucial expectations of our profession." 

Libraries are doing this by restructuring the building itself to include more collaborative and smart technology spaces for students and faculty.

At Humboldt State University Library, Oberlander says the institution has become an innovation lab that facilitates campus-wide events and workshops, bringing the entire campus community to one pla​​ce for a range of learning enhancement opportunities.​​

Bringing the Library into the Future

About 800,000 students visit CSU libraries every week, making the institutions a pivotal part of every CSU campus.

CSU Fullerton created what it calls an "information commons" that brings together reference librarians, IT help, a writing center, peer tutoring and supplemental instruction.

There's also an Outreach and Engagement Team that holds activities for students in and outside the library. The department overseeing the campus centers that support diverse student groups like the Chicana and Chicano Resource Center and the Titan Dreamers Resource Center has moved into the library, too.

Sonoma State's library played a critical role in launching the School of Business and Economics' open-access "Wine Business Case Research Journal," a semiannual publication by the campus' Wine Business Institute that offers insight into global wine business case studies.

The library, which has also introduced cultural groups and programming, recently partnered with the School of Science and Technology to bring 3-D printers, laser cutters, virtual reality equipment, computers for producing models, wood and metal lasers, and even a sewing machine to the library, all accessible to any student who wants to use the equipment.

This fall, Humboldt State will debut its Center for Teaching and Learning at its library, along with a new Special Collections & University Archives and an innovative active learning classroom.

The library recently launched HSU Press, which has published nine books and puts out five journals, and has implemented the Humboldt Scholars Lab, which offers collaborative research stations.

Collaboration is so essential, in fact, that CSU campus libraries will move to a unified search system called OneSearch in summer 2017. It will allow users to explore resources on all 23 CSU libraries in one simple search. When the integration is complete, OneSearch will become the largest public university shared library system in the U.S.

Read more about the CSU's Unified Library Management System. ​