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Books Out, Digital In with USF Library Renovations

Sep 8, 2014

Two days before the fall semester recently started at the University of South Florida, William Garrison was walking through the main Library on the Tampa campus.

As the Dean of USF Libraries, Garrison was nervous about the $1.5 million renovation project that had been done over the summer. Then two students walked past him.

"And all I heard was ‘Where are we? We don’t recognize this! This is great, can we use it now?’" he explained, excitedly repeating their reaction.

That’s the way many students have responded to the changes, as the first two floors of the almost forty year old building barely look like they did before. As a matter of fact, on the first day of class, a line of students waiting to get into the improved areas greeted Garrison, amazing him.

"They haven't even had class yet - what assignments are they here to do?" he asked later that afternoon.

Wooden cubicles that filled half of the first floor have been replaced by booths and tables, as well as a more open floor plan that allows students to work together better.

"One of the other things that we’ve observed with many students is they’re texting all day long, and when evening comes and they want to study, they want a real person next to them, whether they’re studying the same thing or different things, so there’s a big congregation and learning place here," Garrison said.

But there were two other major issues that the changes also addressed: first, not enough electricity for laptops and other devices.

"So we quadrupled the amount of electricity that’s there, and when you go in, you can see half-walls, and all of them have electricity on them," Garrison said.

The second concern: not enough computers.

"The old rows, you would see people walking up and down, waiting for one to become open," Garrison explained. "So we really increased the capacity here."

That might be an understatement - between the first and second floors, there are now around 500 computers. That includes 50 state-of-the-art desktops located in the Digital Media Commons, which has been expanded and moved from the second floor to the first.

"Students working on multimedia projects can use this equipment and can also check out video cameras, audio equipment, high-end digital cameras, and we have all of the software," Garrison said. That includes large collections of Adobe and Apple products.

The Commons are also home to interactive computer boards and smart tables donated by education solutions provider, Promethean, and its CEO, USF alum Jim Marshall.

"It’s been proven that if you really are interactive with whatever you’re learning, you’re more motivated, you’re engaged, and you learn, you remember it, it sticks. And these technologies do that for you," said Cathy Zier, Promethean’s Head of Global Solutions Sales & Alliances.

More computers have also been added to the USF SMART Lab (Science, Math, and Research Technology) on the second floor, where students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses can get instant assistance from tutors. The computers there are available to all students after the lab closes. 

There are also a number of other academic services scattered throughout the library.

"So you have the Office for Undergraduate Research here, you have the Academic Success Center here, you have the Writing Studio here, the IT (information technology) Help Desk for campus is here, the IT repair shop is in this building," Garrison said.

These services, which also include the Job Shop, where students can get career guidance, help make the library the academic center of USF. During peak times of the year, like during finals, more than 20,000 students visit the building in a day.

"You can come in at three o’clock in the morning and you’ll find 900 to 1,000 students in here, so we’re used all the time," Garrison said.

"I think the new library looks fantastic," USF President Judy Genshaft added after a ceremony formally opening the Library. "But more than looking good, the kind of equipment that we have here, the media opportunities, and the technology is so fabulous for the students. That is our goal - student success and to be on the cutting edge of all the technology."

A tutor helps a student in the USF SMART Lab
Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News

That increasing presence of technology, as opposed to the more traditional offerings of books and periodicals located elsewhere in the library, is the way that USF can meet today's students where they live - in the digital world.

"95 percent of what we acquire is electronic or digital – 95 percent," Garrison emphasized. "Our usage reflects that — less than 20 percent of the materials that circulate out of the library are books."

"If we’re only viewed as a book warehouse, we’re dead," he added. "We need to be major contributors to the success of the students, and so our changes and our transforming are all designed to meet those needs and to really play a big role in the success of the students at USF and that’s what we’re all about."

The $1.5 million for the renovations came from the state's Capital Improvement Trust Fund, which include a small portion of students' tuition money. Those funds are pooled statewide and then distributed back to schools, with the share depending on the size of the school.