From card catalogues to VR

(Posted Jan. 11, 2024)

When the Commons in the Queen Elizabeth II Library officially opened 20 years ago, it reflected the rapid evolution of digital technology.

The main floor of the library went from housing stacks of reference books and rows of card catalogues to becoming a computing and collaboration hub with 40 networked desktop computers.

Designed to be a “one-stop shop,” students could access the internet, computer software like Word Perfect and Excel, and a suite of other services to support their academic work and support student success in a library setting.

“That model still exists,” said Meaghan Malone, acting manager of IT student services with the Commons. “But, 20 years on, the support that students can access in that “shop” has grown: they can attend a workshop on designing a resumé, learn about 3D design in our Makerspace, access virtual reality, have a headshot taken in the Digital Media Centre for their LinkedIn profile, print a poster for an academic conference and the list goes on. Our partnerships, specifically in the Makerspace, allow us to connect with students beyond the four walls of the Commons and help provide experiential learning opportunities in classroom settings, too.”

Lance Labrador, a third-year engineering student and Commons employee, says his work gives him “immense satisfaction” particularly when assisting newcomers to Canada.

“The Commons’ support services for both new and returning students play a crucial role in easing the transition into university life,” he said. “One of my fondest memories involves assisting a new master’s student with his paperwork for his MCP application. Witnessing the relief and gratitude in his expression when I assisted him in scanning and organizing his documents remains a standout moment for me.”

’20 busy years’

The Commons is a unique partnership between the Office of the Chief Information Officer, Memorial University Libraries and the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Each unit provides its expertise and funding to support its collective success.

“The library was the perfect place to make available new ways to learn and present what is learned,” said Louise White, associate dean of libraries, QEII library. “Pairing student-led technology support with the library’s collection and dedication to the research process was bound to be a success. Twenty busy years later, we can’t imagine the QEII Library without the Commons.”

With 41,000 individual logins and nearly half a million printed pages during the fall 2023 semester, the Commons provides Memorial University students with equitable access to technology.

“While it’s easy to assume that all students have personal access to computers and high-speed internet, that’s simply not the case,” explained Ms. Malone. “If there’s one thing we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that there is a continued demand for our space and our services: well before the university returned to on-campus classes, the Commons re-opened a socially distanced computing space in the QEII Library.”

Student to student

One important aspect of the Commons is the use of a peer support model; students receive assistance from their fellow students.

“I think The Commons is the best place of employment when you are a student at Memorial,” said David Chicas, a former employee and recent graduate with a bachelor of science degree. “I also really like how we offer so much to other students. It is very easy to get lost with all the information you get when going to university for the first time, and we help make that more clear.”

On average, the Commons hires 20 students per term from a variety of academic disciplines.

Currently, its 21 staff members also represent 10 different countries.

Ensuring student success is why the Commons exists, says Ms. Malone.

“Our student staff really are the “face” of the Commons, and they need to quickly become technical experts in a variety of areas. We provide them with formalized opportunities to hone their software and troubleshooting skills, to set professional goals and reflect on the skills they’re developing and we meet regularly with them for feedback.”

In addition to the student staff, there is a devoted team of full-time employees committed to making the Commons a success.

“We’ve always been fortunate to have a small but mighty team of full-time staff members, working behind the scenes to keep Commons operations running smoothly,” Ms. Malone said. “Their dedication to our services and our staffing model has remained consistent and has been a major factor in our success and longevity.”

To learn more about the Commons and celebrate its 20-year history, you can watch a special anniversary video here.

A group of people smile at the camera as two hold a knife to cut into a cake with "Celebrating 20 years" and colourful balloons on it.
From left, Andre Blanco, Travis Myers, Barbara Dawson, Meaghan Malone, Jane Ryan, Melody Robateau and Ashley Critch cut the Commons’ 20th-anniversary cake on Jan. 10.