orange_onu_logo_markJeanne Graessle, a mechanical engineering junior who works in the Ohio Northern University (ONU) library, noticed that students would automatically take their voices down to a hushed whisper the moment they entered the building. But a recent renovation of the space is now encouraging students to keep talking.

The institution’s master plan which seeks to meet students’ academic and co-curricular needs led to the renovation of ONU’s Heterick Memorial Library. About a year ago a committee consisting of the provost, faculty from all four colleges within ONU, staff from information technology and instructional design, and students was formed to plan the re-design which focused primarily on the first floor of the library’s three levels.

While many students on the committee were in the engineering program, there was also a pharmacy student and a philosophy major. Kathleen Baril, library director, said that having students’ perspectives was important to ensuring the space was designed with their needs in mind. For example, when they were looking at tall tables, one of the students suggested that having a spot to put one’s bag would be helpful. Now they have hooks and cubbies incorporated into those tables. Two engineering students also led a two-day furniture prototyping session for faculty and students during which they presented various options and then broke the group into teams that physically built their ideas out of cardboard boxes, duct tape and spare shelving units.

The final renovations were completed over the summer in time for the fall semester. While some of the renovations were aesthetic – they removed heavy blinds to let in light and added a lot more color to a previously monochromatic palette – much of the change focused on encouraging different uses of the first floor.

heterick-renovationNow students can rearrange the furniture and write on the whiteboard walls to maximize group study sessions in what is referred to as the ‘creative, innovative zone.’ The only challenge, laughed Graessle, is for the staff who try to put the furniture back at the end of the day. Also, groups that have collaborative projects can book private rooms where they can hook up a laptop to a screen to work together.

“We want to encourage students to work collaboratively in the library,” said Baril. “It reflects the change in teaching and learning on campus. Students have more group projects now and also want to study in groups more than they used to.”

Even solo studiers are benefitting from the changes with more comfortable seating and adjustable height tables. The renovations also added something else that is high on most college students’ wish list: coffee. The library has always permitted food and drink, but with the addition of a café, refreshments are now at hand. Previously, recalled Graessle, students had to walk a half mile to Main Street and ‘cross the tundra’ to get coffee. And then they had to come back because there were no study spaces near the cafe.

So far feedback from students – some of it on a whiteboard in the library – has been positive. ONU plans to repeat a space study this spring.

The renovations brought one other significant change to the first floor. Now known as the Oscar J. and Judith D. Mifsud Collaborative Learning Center, it is named for the married alumni who recall the library as fostering a different type of collaboration for them – study dates.