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Scholars’ Commons: The New Frontier for Digital Scholarship

Panorama view of the Scholars' Commons

Panorama view of the Scholars’ Commons space, pre-construction

Upon seeing the first floor in the East Tower of the Herman B Wells Library (the gateway to our research collections and reference services) had been cleared for construction, we knew the Scholars’ Commons was near.  The Indiana University Libraries’ web site envisions the Scholars’ Commons as:

 a vibrant, attractive central-campus space dedicated to technologies and services that support in-depth scholarship and scholarly community. Scholars will come to this facility to use cutting-edge technologies, attend seminars and consult with experts on tools, collections and innovative approaches that further their research in the humanities, arts, sciences and social sciences. In addition to a cohesive set of technologies and services, the IU Scholars’ Commons will be a flexible space for building community and sparking interdisciplinary inquiry.

As a member of our Scholars’ Commons Task Force, and a leader of our Research Now: Cross-Training for Digital Scholarship initiative, I know the above vision statement to be true, and though we are still solidifying service models, staffing structure, and cross-campus partnering opportunities, I am optimistic and confident that this new space — physical, virtual, cultural, and ultimately metaphorical — will bring together the collective strengths of our library and library staff by offering, not only a cohesive set of services (much of which already exists in various areas across the libraries), but also the diverse, cross-functional sets of expertise needed to advance research across all subject domains and all platforms for inquiry and publishing that exist across campus.

History of the Making of the Scholars’ Commons

In the early 2000s, the Indiana University (IU) Libraries in partnership with IU’s central computing division, University Information Technology Services, began planning the Information Commons (IC), a collaborative space focused on student learning at the intersection of libraries and information technology. Not long after the launch of the Information Commons, the IU Libraries launched the IC2 in 2005 while simultaneously envisioning a Research Commons, a collaborative space and portal for faculty, graduate students, and other IU scholars seeking research support, which would include services from various units across the campus.  Nearly ten years later (perhaps a little more according to some of us who are long-time employees of the IU Libraries) we have fulfilled our vision of the Research Commons now known as the Scholars’ Commons.

Though the Scholars’ Commons took longer than expected to build, the IU Libraries has, of course, always supported scholars in their research pursuits.  We have a strong Reference and Research Services department, and renown subject specialists on staff. The William & Gayle Cook Music Library is recognized as one of the largest academic music libraries in the world.  Our rare books, manuscripts and special collections library, the Lilly Library, is a treasure trove of amazingness.  We are fortunate to have spectacular special collections all over campus, many of which are affiliated with the IU Libraries:  the Indiana University Archives, the Archives of Traditional Music, the Kinsey Institute, and more!  We launched a highly regarded Digital Library Program in 1997, and have since evolved and extended digital library initiatives across the IU Libraries, the Bloomington campus, and beyond (thanks to lots of partnerships).  Before the creation of the Institute of Digital Arts and Humanities in 2007, the IU Libraries was often an incubator or partner in furthering digital humanities projects like the Chymistry of Isaac Newton,  the Swinburne Project, and Victorian Women Writers Project.  More recently, the formation of the Office of Scholarly Publishing in 2012, currently an IU Press and IU Libraries partnership, is advancing scholarly communication across the Bloomington campus in new and interesting ways.

Add to this the expertise and extensive knowledge of an array of partners supporting research across campus — University Information Technology Services in particular Research Technologies, HathiTrust Research Center, Indiana Statistical Consulting, Center for Survey Research, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research to name only a few — the Scholars’ Commons is well on its way to becoming a hub for research and digital scholarship.

 The Actual Making of the Scholars’ Commons

After the space was cleared and the blueprints still a work in progress, some of us considered using the space as a rollerskating rink or for scootering.

Julie Hardesty on a Scooter in the space formerly occupied by the IQ-Wall.

Julie Hardesty on a scooter in the space formerly occupied by the IQ-Wall

Floor Plan for the Scholars' Commons

Scholars’ Commons Coming Soon: exhibition space, secure reading room and public computers

As plans began to solidify and schematics and storyboards were

Scholars' Commons Coming Soon: reference desk, seminar/presentation room and public workstations

Scholars’ Commons Coming Soon: reference desk, seminar/lecture room and public workstations

shared, we began to see, coming soon, the promise of the Scholars’ Commons.  As the storyboards indicated, it would be a place for digital revolution where experts speak, interact and innovate.  The Scholars’ Commons was conceived to foster research at every angle:   from a secure reading room with sufficient space for a class to gather and inspect fragile, brittle or oversized material to a cozy reading space next to the newly acquired books; from dedicated spaces with computer workstations to docking stations for plugging in laptops both; from a state-of-the-art seminar/lecture room for workshops, colloquia, brown bags, and presentations to multi-faceted consultation rooms for 1:1 or group meetings with experts from all across campus; from a dedicated, multimedia exhibition space to a high-end visualization technologies: IQ-Wall and multi-touch, interactive tables and displays.

Scholars' Commons Digital Revolution: State of the Art Public Multimedia Digitization Facilities

Scholars’ Commons Digital Revolution:  public multimedia digitization facilities


Scholars’ Commons Experts Speak: high-tech seminar/lecture room for workshops, colloquia, etc.

Scholars' Commons Experts Speak: State of the Art Seminar/Lecture room for workshops, colloquia and other programming

Scholars’ Commons Interactive and Innovate: state-of-the-art visualization technologies including the IQ-Wall

Members of the Scholars’ Commons Task Force led by the Associate Dean of Library Academic Services, Diane Dallis, and the Associate Dean for Collection Development and Scholarly Communication, Julie Bobay, have worked tirelessly with guidance from the Scholars’ Commons Faculty Council Members, which serves as an advisory group, to imagine this space and the services that will be provided.

The Role of Research Now in the Scholars’ Commons

The transformation is amazing!  What once looked like a 15,000 square foot roller skating rink is now revealing itself as a proper, scholarly space.

Second day of operation for the new Scholars' Commons reference desk

Second day of operation for the new Scholars’ Commons reference desk

The wonders of the Scholars’ Commons are not complete without rightfully acknowledging the front-line staff who have worked hard in preparation for the opening as part of our professional development initiative known as Research Now: Cross-Training for Digital Scholarship.  The core team consists of about twenty-five staff members across various units in the Libraries: Collection Development & Scholarly Communication, Library Technologies, Reference Services, and Arts & Humanities.  Together we have survived ten months of in-depth, hands-on learning from each other and with each other so that we are equipped to provide high-level support for the various Scholars’ Commons services (final naming pending):

  • Research Practices and Reference
  • Scholarly Communication & Publishing Services
  • Copyright & Intellectual Property
  • Data Analysis & Visualization
  • Metadata
  • Data Management
  • Digitization Services
  • Geospatial Services

We are still a few months away from completing a digital archive on the history of the Indiana University Libraries, but we are making progress and learning mounds along the way.  More than anything else, we are ready for the Scholars’ Commons reference desk, the initial service point for all_the_things research and digital scholarship.  

Research Now project team working through user stories for the History of IU Libraries digital archive

Research Now project team working through user stories for the History of IU Libraries digital archive

Subset of Research Now project team, contemplating and whiteboarding

Subset of Research Now project team, contemplating and whiteboarding

Some of us from Research Now will also be holding “open

Affinity diagraming as part of our design work for the History of IU Libraries digital archive

Affinity diagraming as part of our design work for the History of IU Libraries digital archive

office” consultation hours in the Scholars’ Commons and others are developing and contributing to the diverse programming in place this coming year, from workshops to speaker series, on topics ranging from digital initiatives to surviving and thriving in academia.  And all of us will be fostering and propelling research and digital scholarship alongside each other. It has truly been a great pleasure and privilege to work with every one of my Research Now colleagues.

Official Debut: Awesome Speakers and Cutting of Ribbons

Every day is a busy day getting furniture assembled and technology installed in the Scholars’ Commons.  As much as possible, this has not stopped us from providing top-notch services or has stopped the use of the space (just today I saw someone working on a laptop to the sound of a drill!).  We should be fully operational by mid-September.

On October 30, 2014, the IU Libraries will host the grand opening of the Scholars’ Commons, featuring important speakers from throughout campus and a visiting speaker and scholar in digital humanities and scholarly communication, Kathleen Fitzpatrick.  The ribbon will also be cut that day.   Mark you calendars, but stop by anytime.  We are here to help, to partner, to wonder, and to explore with you (despite the drilling).  


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  • Curt says:

    Cool site! My favorite library employee is Alexis Andronikos! She is so helpful with every opportunity or concern. She’s a great representative of IU – you probably already know that. Best wishes with your development project!

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