PORTLAND – There’s a new rule on the second floor of the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Family Library.
Talking is allowed. In fact, it’s encouraged.
Stacks of books have been removed and the space has been revamped into a colorful, open area for collaborative study, called the Learning Commons.
At a large circular desk, tutors help with research, writing and technology. Pods of extra-wide desks allow two people to pull up chairs. Bright yellow study rooms have large hanging monitors so groups can easily view a laptop screen. And an assortment of cushy green furniture lines a wall of windows.
“This is not designed as a quiet place to study,” said Paul Dexter, the Learning Commons’ coordinator.
“If students want to pull furniture together, that’s great. We applaud that,” he said.
After $400,000 worth of renovations that started in the summer, the Learning Commons at Glickman and another in the library on USM’s Gorham campus opened last month.
The goal of the new space is to better connect students to resources that will help them succeed academically. Those services had been in the now-closed Student Success Center in Luther Bonney Hall, a less central location than the library.
“Part of why students didn’t seek support is that they didn’t know about it,” said Dexter.
At the same time, the number of tutors has grown from 16 to 47, and what they offer has expanded far beyond math, writing and English as a Second Language — the only lessons previously available.
Dexter said there will be sessions on note-taking skills, time management and ways to use a smartphone as a research tool. A new website allows students to sign up for those lessons online.
And various types of help, from finding the right primary documents for a research paper to writing a good introduction, will come from people who sit side by side, rather than in different parts of campus, Dexter said.
Centralizing those services in the library is bringing more people into that building, which dovetails with university librarian David Nutty’s goals.
“We want to be even more heavily used as a center on campus,” Nutty said.
As collections become digital, academic libraries are trying to transform from “book warehouses” to “learning centers,” he said.
It appears that already has happened at USM.
“As soon as it was open, I think everyone just kind of flooded here,” said Leticia Smith, an environmental science major who was doing organic-chemistry homework in a study room on a recent afternoon.
Smith was working with her classmate Kim Derby. There’s usually a bigger crowd, they said.
Since the space opened, a group of students from their class has been getting together in one of the rooms almost daily. The white boards on the wall are particularly useful for working out problems, they said.
Si Khuu, a computer science major, has been busy tutoring fellow students on how to use Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe Photoshop. He said people who sign up for tutoring to learn to use certain software for a class are coming back for help while they work on computers in the commons.
“We are a familiar face,” said Khuu.
Connecting with the campus community is instrumental to students’ success in college, Dexter said. He has reason to believe the commons has already created that connection for at least a couple of students.
“Twice, I heard students say, ‘I found my new home on campus,’ ” he said.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: