January, 2018

Libraries have always been at the heart of Minnesota private colleges, but the library of today looks very different than the stacks of decades past. Macalester College has embraced the changing nature of the college library and hasn’t been afraid to rethink its space and function.

The library continues to be at the center of Macalester — physically, academically and socially. “The first level of the library has always been a very busy hub, students come there to see and be seen,” Terri Fishel, Macalester’s library director said, “With the changes on level two, it’s now just buzzing.”

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At center of the newly renovated second floor is the Idea Lab. It is what’s called a “maker space” that includes things like sewing machines, interactive whiteboards and a co-working space. With the feeling of a startup tech company, the space is often filled with students working independently, but it also hosts classes and speakers.

The renovation also includes group study rooms, entrepreneur offices and work spaces. There is a new non-coffee café, which is a casual open workspace with café-like seating and an interactive classroom. Fishel said all these changes were designed to promote collaboration, creativity and innovation.

Students and faculty also have access to specialty equipment like 3D printers, vinyl laser cutters and state-of-the-art graphics tablets.

“Libraries have traditionally been a space for students and faculty to create,” Fishel said. “In something like the maker space, what you’re creating is just more tactile.”

Although some of the spaces have changed, the library still provides the classic necessities. “We did not get rid of any books,” Fishel said. “We moved 100,000 books over the course of last summer to other floors of the library.”

Not only has the space changed, library staff are spending their time differently as well. Tech savvy students have access to a wide range of digital resources and materials, so it can be hard for students to decipher what’s reliable and what’s not, Fishel said. “We’ve been talking about reliable sources for a long time but there has been a renewed effort over the last year or so. We’re focused on helping them analyze sources and enhance their critical perspective of digital sources.”

“I think students at liberal arts colleges have more experience developing critical thinking skills.  We are now helping them focus those skills on digital sources,” Fishel said. “I’m really proud of our librarians who are working with students in new ways and in new spaces.”

By Tom Lancaster