Repurposing University Library Space

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is consolidating collections in off-site shelving facilities to make room for instructional innovation in the heart of campus.

Did You Know?

The UW-Madison’s library system comprises more than 40 on-campus libraries. Select campus libraries are consolidating collections into a high-bay shelving facility equipped with Spacesaver’s Xtend® Mobile High-Bay Storage System.

Libraries are transforming to meet modern requirements, and the libraries at major research institutions are no exception. Library professionals have recognized the need to shift service offerings as students need less help finding printed research materials and more help evaluating the vast amounts of information available online—and they’ve also seen print materials declining in circulation as the most current books, journals, and research collections become available electronically. At the same time, the traditional instructor-centered classroom model, which consists of lecture halls or classrooms that feature a podium for the instructor and chairs for students to sit and take notes, is falling from favor as technology offers new ways to teach and learn.

In an effort to encourage instructional innovation and make the best use of space and staff time, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is repurposing underutilized areas in on-campus libraries to create new learning spaces.

The new spaces support active learning by “flipping” the traditional instructional model: instead of lecturing in class and assigning homework, instructors often ask students to watch online lectures before each class session in order to use class time to work on projects and call on the instructor’s expertise when they need assistance.

The new spaces support active learning by “flipping” the traditional instructional model.

Planning Considerations for High-Bay Shelving Facilities

Be sure to plan ahead for processing space, pickers and lifts, fire suppression systems, and more. This free planning guide shares insights gathered from our years of working with clients to design high-bay shelving facilities.

A model for teaching and learning

The university has ambitious plans to construct these new spaces in libraries across campus, and two centers have already been completed. These new learning spaces are a part of the Wisconsin Collaboratory for Enhanced Learning (WisCEL). The goal of the WisCEL program is to create student-centered environments, as opposed to instructor-centered lecture halls, to encourage active learning and innovative instruction. Featuring interactive digital whiteboards, shared large-screen monitors, individual laptops, and decentralized seating arrangements, the rooms challenge students to collaborate and participate more actively during class time.

Given that engineering is a rapidly evolving field and that new materials appear online every day, the UW-Madison College of Engineering’s older books have not been in high demand in recent years. With that in mind, the engineering library began the process of decreasing its on-campus holdings by placing materials in an off-site shelving facility and withdrawing duplicate titles.

The resulting space is being used to revolutionize instruction at the College. The first major project cleared out and consolidated an entire floor of printed material to make room for the new WisCEL Center at Wendt Commons. The new center comprises three classrooms of various sizes, a multi-use room, and an instructor workroom. The largest classroom features a highly decentralized seating system consisting of “pods” with six seats each. Each pod is equipped with laptops and a shared large-screen monitor. Instructors can use smartboards, projectors, and fixed and mobile whiteboards.

The planning committee emphasized flexibility during the design process. They wanted spaces that not only offered a variety of options to instructors during the day, but that could also serve as study areas and collaborative work spaces around the clock.

“It’s fluid,” said Deborah Helman, director of science and engineering libraries, in reference to the WisCEL space. “It’s booked solid with courses during the day. But it’s just as busy at night, with tutors and study groups and people studying on their own. These spaces are being used all the time.”

The students feel like this is their space. We’re seeing better attendance at office hours because the students feel like they belong here.”

– Deborah Helman,
Director of Science & Engineering Libraries

Evolving to meet modern needs

University officials stress that these libraries are not closing; they are evolving to meet modern needs. “When we talk about consolidation, we talk about three things,” said Ed Van Gemert, the UW-Madison Vice Provost for Libraries. “We talk about concentrating print resources in fewer locations, and within that we make decisions based on usage about what needs to remain on active shelves and what needs to move off site. The second piece is repurposing library spaces, such as the WisCEL spaces. The third piece is the reassignment of library staff into priority areas.”

While the changes associated with such a dramatic shift in the on-campus libraries’ function and appearance can be difficult, the libraries’ core mission remains the same: to provide exemplary information services. With a dedicated high-density shelving facility and a solid strategy to fill it, the university is well-positioned to honor its commitments to retaining print-based materials while making room for modern ways to create, use, and share information.

“Shelving is the linchpin,” Van Gemert said. “It enables us to do other things with the space that printed materials once occupied.”

“We want to make sure that the items we’re putting into the high-bay facility are really well thought out. It’s costly and extremely time-consuming to move things out after you move them in.”

– Heather Weltin, Director of Collection Management & Resource Sharing

Contact the experts in high-bay shelving planning and design.

Although planning a high-bay shelving facility might seem like a daunting task, our expert space planners work on these projects all the time. Contact us today to tap into our expertise.