Library renovation to create Learning Commons

rendering of duPont Library renovation

Just as the 2016-17 academic year came to a close in May, preparations for a significant renovation of the main floor of Sewanee’s Jessie Ball duPont Library started ramping up. The project to create a new Learning Commons in the library is the result of several years of planning.

The Learning Commons project responds to growing student needs for more collaborative spaces and up-to-date technology for practicing class presentations, while retaining the traditional study and social spaces that the library has offered for years. Faculty, staff, and students worked to create a design for the Learning Commons during Easter Semester 2017.

The plan will be implemented in two phases, the first of which involves the area on the main floor of the library with large windows facing the Bishop’s Common. Phase I will be completed before students return to campus in August.

“Student input was important to the planning process and reinforced our desire to maintain the traditional reading room atmosphere of the space,” says Vicki Sells, associate provost for Library and Information Technology Services. “The wooden tables and chairs original to duPont when the building opened in 1965 will be refinished. The wood paneling will be restored to its original color and beauty. Comfortable furniture will be added to the space as well as more electrical outlets and improved Wi-Fi to support the increasing use of mobile devices.”

The University’s Writing Center and the new Center for Speaking and Listening will have designated spaces in the Learning Commons. Group-study rooms will be available for collaborative student projects, practice presentations, and for quiet study. The two balcony areas at each end of the space are being renovated to provide group-study and consultation rooms.

“Given that the functions of the Writing Center and the Speaking and Listening Center are very similar, we thought, why not share the space,” says Sean O’Rourke, professor of rhetoric and director of the Center for Speaking and Listening. “That way we can share not only some of the equipment but the student resources as well.” When the centers are closed, the space will be available for studying as it has been in the past.

In the Center for Speaking and Listening, students will be able to use some high-tech tools to hone their speaking skills. Smartphones can be mounted on a device that will follow students’ movements in the room as it records their presentations. “It puts you into a kind of TED Talk position, where you’re not locked to a lectern and a microphone, and that’s truthfully how it is in most classrooms, anyway,” says O’Rourke.

Another addition in Phase I of the renovation is a café operated by Sewanee Dining Services just off the main lobby, offering coffee, drinks, and grab-and-go food items.