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Plans for Research Commons Revealed in Task Force Report

Plans are taking shape to introduce a host of services to support faculty and upper-level researchers in a space in McKeldin Library to be known as a “research commons.”

A University Libraries task-force report outlining the vision for such a space identifies needs and steps to advance this priority project, which will also include a hefty web presence that centralizes access to new services and partnerships.

In an environment where new technologies, new pedagogies, new publishing models for scholarship and new learning environments are changing daily, the report says, librarians are working to address the changing needs of the academic community. 

Library administrators point to the swift emergence of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, as one example of evidence for the need to provide different kinds of spaces and services to support faculty. 

“We have long supported faculty and graduate students by providing resources and services to meet their research and teaching goals,” says Patricia Steele, dean of the University Libraries. “Increasingly we do this by being on the forefront of technology and trends. Our goal is not only to anticipate needs, but also to lead change.  The concept of a research commons accomplishes just that.”

A benefit of a research commons will be its central offering of core services, or “one-stop shopping,” that will include, for example, support for managing and preserving data, developing research proposals, publishing scholarship, understanding copyright issues, and more.

Based in part on survey findings of university students and faculty, the report also reveals a strong desire among faculty for bibliographic management support, or assistance with software that can help organize and leverage research citations. Such support will be integrated into ramped-up services independent of a defined physical space.

A research commons in McKeldin Library will be phased in over several years, with a goal to provide flexible space that is adaptable over time. Carving out space in McKeldin Library will first require shifting some materials there to other spaces within the library and also relocating other, lesser-used materials to Severn Library, a university-owned facility on the edge of campus that is expected to open in 2016.

Among the first steps in realizing a research commons will be to aggregate existing services through a website, creating a “virtual commons,” and add complementary services as they are developed.

The Terrapin Learning Commons, or TLC, opened in 2011 primarily to support the needs of undergraduate students, a group with far different needs than those of high-level researchers. Open all night much of the year, it is also consistently the highest-used space in McKeldin Library.

“The TLC is filled with computers, lots of movable furniture, and rooms for students to meet with their groups,” says Gary White, associate dean for public services. “We expect a research commons will  also provide popular services and a sense of community—just probably not at 2 in the morning.”