From library to learning commons: Title III grant ushers in a new era

Published by Robin Bailey on

Following through; what lies in the library’s future

With the awarding of a Title III Grant in fall of 2021, UCC’s Library should be in active works of renovation and revitalization of its space. However, after a year has passed, architectural plans for the library’s evolution to a proposed Teaching and Learning Center are still a bit up-in-the-air.

However, this hasn’t stopped the library faculty from acting on current revitalization efforts of their own.

As expressed by library faculty, the utilization of that grant money in developing library space is not only wanted but needed. These faculty say that an academic library such as UCC should not only reflect histories of the past, but also the ever-so-quickly shifting narratives of today in order to best support its students and tax-paying patrons.

Teoli’s team under Peter’s direction

Liz Teoli, one of the most vocal supporters of a more “student-facing” library on campus, is UCC’s research, reference and instruction librarian. In the mornings, Teoli can often be seen completing her tasks while touting a tumbler brimming with coffee — on certain days, more than one.“Hot coffee… or cold coffee?” she says in mock deliberation, lips quirking in a smile. 

Most days, Teoli arrives on-campus before 7:30 a.m. — when the library opens — in order to set up shop. She pulls up all the curtains, letting the dawn creep in, and readies the circulation desk for the day’s work.

Director of Library & Learning Commons Kelly Peter wants to give students better access and improve the flow of the library.
Robin Bruns / The Mainstream

However, when the plans for the Teaching and Learning Center go through, circulation is one of the first places library faculty have plans to renovate. Director of Library & Learning Commons Kelly Peter says, “We’re hoping to move the circulation desk to the middle of the library in order to improve flow.”

It currently sits closer to the back; to check out a book or even ask a single question, students need to walk nearly the entire length of the building. This is but one of the many current features of the library that add up to make it feel “passive” and unlively, as Peter describes.

Teoli expressed similar ideals toward the library culture wanted in the renovation: “a warming, welcoming place where people want to be.” So far, Teoli believes she and the other library faculty have already begun helping to shift the place’s “vibe” overall.

This, Teoli says, started with “cultivating a really amazing team. In the immortal words of Captain Planet, ‘Our powers combine!’” she laughs, then resolves: “We’re basically unstoppable.”

Library assistant Shannon Cambra poses with one of her free stickers.
Robin Bruns / The Mainstream

Teoli introduces a prominent team member and frequent friendly face, library assistant Shannon Cambra. Cambra also inhabits the circulation desk, almost always with a book in her hands and a smile on her face and frequently aids patrons with whatever they might need.

Teoli has helped Cambra grow as an employee. “When I see potential in people, I help them flourish; Shannon’s really come out of her shell now,” Teoli says.

Safe, stickered space

About a month ago, a little cup stuffed with stickers — free for any passersby to browse and help themselves — suddenly appeared on Cambra’s desk. This was her own idea: “Everybody likes stickers,” she says with a grin.

As well as fun stickers, Cambra also brings serious ones: currently, she’s increasing the accessibility of the library through a relabeling project.

“When I was first employed here, there was only one letter on the books’ call numbers,” which are the details applied by libraries on the spines of their books used to sort and organize them by their authors’ last names. “That made it almost impossible to find and shelve books.”

Elaborating on accessibility, Cambra says, “We try to make the library super inclusive. Libraries are supposed to be a safe space, so we try to add books for everyone.”

Culture on campus

UCC has a wider selection of children’s books centering on diverse media and topics of sociopolitical concern, also thanks to Cambra, who researches and handpicks them herself.

Cambra plans on finishing a Master’s program to become a children’s librarian in the future, though, for now, she focuses her efforts not only on tasks like expanding UCC’s collection, but also like the cultural book displays set up frequently in the Student Center.

Originally the cultural book displays were AmeriCorps representative Lakia Burnside-Atkinson’s idea, and Cambra tells how she gladly helps Burnside-Atkinson with an organized display of youth, adult, fiction and nonfiction materials relevant to each month’s designated celebration.

This term, Cambra has chosen books for October’s National Hispanic Heritage Month and November’s Native American Heritage Month and is looking forward to what December may bring.

Upon request, library faculty has even quickly gathered relevant selections for one-day events such as Dia de los Muertos and the many times UCC’s Queer Students Advocacy club has staffed a table at the Compass; the former upon prior request and the latter executed through the library website’s live messaging program.

Level two technician, internet for students on-the-go

Also located in the library is computer support technician Austin Miller. Seeing about a dozen people a day, Miller’s vision for his place in a more relevant library is simple but as-needed as ever, saying: “I’d probably just be helping more people with technology.”

On the current state of technical support available for students through the library, Miller says, “We’ve been woefully short on wifi hotspots for the entire time that I’ve been here — nine months employed and two years as a student in the IT department’s work study.”

“It’s kind of rare to see one anymore,” he says. As of now, the library has six hotspots able to be checked out to students needing internet connection off-campus; they are all currently in-use. “People really like the hotspots. They’re very useful if you live out in the sticks or are on satellite internet already.”

The hotspots are USB drives which, when inserted into a device, provide the user with cellular data they can use for just about anything online. Miller says that there is no hard data cap for the wifi: “It’s not the fastest, but it works, and that definitely helps.”

What are the eggs in Haskett’s basket?

Danielle Haskett, UCC’s interim Teaching & Learning Director, is the one currently in charge of the plans for the renovation of the library space.

As said by Haskett in an email, “We are working with an architect firm on the design of the Teaching and Learning Center… [and are] updating the space to be inviting for students, faculty and staff to learn, innovate, create and build community.”

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