Adapting Your Library for a New Generation

The University of Oklahoma challenged REES to help them turn an underutilized basement into the corner stone of a re-imagined University library. The result of our collaboration is the new Helmerich Collaborative Learning Center.

“When designing the space, we challenged common assumptions about what it means to be a library in the 21st century,” states Rick Luce, University of Oklahoma Dean of Libraries. “We pushed boundaries to reinvigorate the library as a catalyst for imagination and creativity, both physically and virtually, with flexible spaces to experiment, discover and learn together. I think the popularity of the space speaks to our success.”

To achieve Dean Luce’s vision, three spaces were essential: student “owned” collaborative areas, a collaborative classroom and a digital scholarship lab. We’ll highlight how the design, technology and furniture choices impacted each of these spaces.

Student Owned Areas

Student-owned spaces were a top priority. These flexible spaces are designed for students to adapt the workspaces to the type of task they need to accomplish. The furniture throughout the facility is flexible, functional and provides a variety of work and collaborative “hubs”. Some of the hubs have bench seating which allows two to three students to view the same book or laptop. A few of the hubs are centered around whiteboards to facilitate discussions but table tops and glass walls in other hubs provide space for sketching or writing with dry erase markers. Large screens with wireless connectionsin some of the hubs allow students to collaborate on presentations and review digital documents. In addition, to meet the technology requirements of today's students the number of power outlets was increased by 200%.

We designed these spaces to give students’ the freedom to move furniture, manipulate technology, write on walls and to make the spaces truly theirs.

Collaborative Classroom and Multipurpose Room

The entire floor is intuitively designed so that spaces like the multi-purpose room and classroom can be used during the day for classes and other activities like lectures. At night they become student spaces with flexible furnishings and technologies.

The multi-purpose room is located at the heart of the learning center and is designed for lectures and other large gatherings. The classroom supports groups of up to 48 students at eight round tables. A centrally located instructor’s station allows full control of the technology. 

Technology, both high and low tech is provided throughout the facility in the form of writable surfaces, monitors in the classroom and a projector in the community room. 

Digital Scholarship Lab

The digital scholarship lab is a computer lab specifically dedicated to faculty and graduate students to provide a space for collaboration. It supports collaborative, cross-disciplinary research for faculty and graduate students. The Lab was created to host workshops, consultations, and training to help familiarize students with innovative tools and resources that build on traditional research and teaching methods. In addition, the Scholarship Lab is also a hub for networking with other graduate students and hosts weekly meetups.  

“A college library is the heart and soul of a university,” says Farooq Karim, Senior Director of Design for REES. “This is THE place where individuals with different backgrounds, areas of expertise and beliefs can come together to engage, inform and inspire each other. These spaces provide access to technologies and tools that enhance our ability learn in a dynamic and collaborative setting.”

The Helmerich Collaborative Learning Center is a collaboration hub with furniture and technology that is adaptable and easy to use. As the first major step in a comprehensive re-development of the entire Bizzell Memorial Library, this generation of students can look forward to a library that supports the way they collaborate and work.