Learning Commons Builds a Foundation on Fundraising

The popular view of a library is stuck in the mid-20th century: many people picture it as a place that's filled with printed books, maybe a card catalog and librarians waiting to shush your every noise.

The reality of today's Mike and Maureen Mansfield Library, and where it's heading, is something out of the mid-21st century. It's not a gathering place for books, but a gathering place for ideas—a hub for learning and discovery.

Learning Commons

This overarching idea is summed up in President Royce Engstrom's Learning Commons Initiative, which aims to reinvent how the University community seeks expertise, conducts research, works on projects and studies. The Learning Commons will foster research solutions and become a place for students and scholars to collaborate.

The Learning Commons project is well on its way to its goal of $3 million, thanks to the volunteer fundraising committee co-chaired by longtime UM supporter Charlie Oliver and Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences Jerry Fetz. Already, the committee has received a seed gift of $225,000 from Theta Rho Chapter of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, among other commitments.

"The committee has formed and is very active," says Charlie Oliver. "This is by far the most strategic project happening right now. We are prepared and ready to go."

Four key elements will define the Learning Commons:

  • Multi-media pods for creating presentations and working with multiple technology options.
  • Collaborative and independent work areas for tutoring, group study and small group instruction.
  • Digital learning labs where students can access computers and University learning tools.
  • Theater-style seating and flexible walls allow for readings, dissertations, concerts and more.

As Oliver says, "We are making a much more convenient place for the students to study in either a group or individually. We are providing an open area, with a nice coffee bar, and new technology to ensure that they have access to whatever they need. We want to encourage them to stay and get done whatever they need to get done. We want to improve and to retain the quality of students."

Fundraising committee member Kent Price puts the project in perspective. "One thousand years ago monks created books. Five hundred years ago the Gutenberg printing press was created, giving people more access to books. Now, we are in the digital age, and books can be anywhere. The library has to adapt to the digital age."

To discuss how you can get involved in supporting the Learning Commons, call Cindy Williams, UM Foundation vice president of development, at 800-443-2593.