At Mugar, “a FitRec for the Mind”
As computer services evolve, a $2.5 million revamp, but still a printing controversy
Returning students walking into Mugar Memorial Library this semester are doing a double take. To the right, the familiar computer cluster that occupied substantial space on the first floor is gone, and the bulky reference books lining the walls have been moved to storage. Desks with PC workstations, private group-study spaces with whiteboards, and lounges with couches and chairs are new features. The IT Help Center occupies the wall that formerly displayed books by BU authors; straight ahead, a research center offers a 21st-century version of a reference desk, where students can seek professional help.
The idea, says University librarian Robert Hudson, Mugar’s director, is to provide a hub of study and interaction on campus, a common space for student work. That’s why the new space has been named BU Common @ Mugar.
“We’re trying to create a Fitness and Recreation Center for the mind,” says Hudson. “We can bring all the information services and resources together in a central location, with lots of support in practical things like printing and scanning, all the way up to research and learning.”
The $2.5 million initiative involved a complete renovation of the library’s first floor, the purchase of 200 energy-efficient ThinClient workstations, and the relocation of the computer lab and IT Help Center from 111 Cummington St. Several thousand books were moved to make way for the computer clusters, a shift that reflects changes in the way students and faculty use and exchange information, says Hudson.
“It’s really emblematic of what has happened to libraries in the last 15 years,” he says. “Our role as librarians continues to be teaching students how to think critically, how to use the information literacy skills we can teach them. When we had just paper and books, we legitimized the sources by having it on our shelves. Now, with the Wild West of the Internet, our role becomes a little more challenging.”
The Research Center is set up to help students navigate to myriad online reference material and get them away from the idea of “using the first thing that comes up on the screen,” Hudson says. “In that sense, I think we’re very aligned with faculty in both our teaching and research. And the expanded computing capability is going to bring us in closer touch with more students who are going to be engaged in academic activities at the library.”
Both the mezzanine level and the Practical Arts and Letters Study Lounge on the third floor have also been outfitted with new workstations and several group seating and study areas. The space also has new hours — the library will remain open until 2 a.m., Sundays through Thursdays, although 24/7 access to University computer stations at Cummington Street no longer is available.
Many of the library’s reference books will still be available, but 24 hours notice is needed to request those moved to storage.
The Common @ Mugar is the most visible element of a series of shifts in BU’s computing facilities this year, including the closing of University Computers (a second, central IT Help Center now occupies the store’s former space in Kenmore Square) and a limit on student printing. Both announcements prompted protests, especially new policies that restrict free printing. Joseph Mercurio, the University’s executive vice president, says that the changes are part of a broader effort to bring BU up to speed.
“The existing computing policy had been in place since 1992, and it’s now 2009 and the world of technology has changed incredibly,” Mercurio says. “The criticisms had a lot to do with declaring that the University was conserving expenditure, but the truth is, the University had made a major investment. We’re trying to do something here that is helpful to the students.”
The new workstations at the Common @ Mugar should provide far more computing power and speed. “This was a way to implement more green, efficient technology that would also give students improved levels of service, convenience, and support efficiencies,” says Tracy Schroeder, vice president for information systems and technology. “These machines should perform more quickly, boot more quickly, and the systems should be more reliable. The servers are placed in two different locations and are redundant to support them faster.”
The workstations will also be equipped with an extensive software list, including full Microsoft Office and Adobe suites, addressing student concerns about access to expensive but sometimes essential programs when the proposed computing changes were announced last April.
“I’ve taken classes in the past where I needed to use Photoshop, or something similar that’s really pricey,” says Laurel Koller (CAS’10). “That was the main reason, besides printing, that I would go to the ResNet labs.”
Eventually, Schroeder says, Information Systems & Technology hopes to make the software programs virtually accessible for students from their own laptops or desktops.
Other changes include the addition of ThinClient workstations in the residence halls’ renovated ResNet labs, now transformed into group study areas and equipped with wireless.
“In 1992, less than 50 percent of our students had computers,” says Mercurio. “In 2009, 95 percent arrive with laptops, and the majority of the students who use the ResNet labs do so primarily to have quiet study space and a place to print. We reconfigured all spaces in residential buildings into study areas where students could collaborate.”
While Mercurio sees the Common @ Mugar as a key investment in a University-wide computer strategy, he also acknowledges that the decision to limit free printing to 100 pages for each student per semester has prompted charges that the University has taken away a long-held student perk.
“Printing was one component of a whole series of changes,” he says. “Moving toward a Common, going wireless, creating study spaces where students can hook up and work together, new high-speed printers in the library and the major dorms, these are all part of what I’d call the expansive view.
“And so the only element we’ve gotten wrong in all this, if students indicating displeasure shows that, is the number of free pages we’re offering. And maybe we did get that wrong. Maybe 100 pages per semester is not a number students can live with. But that’s not locked in concrete.”
Will the administration revisit that decision?
“Absolutely,” says Mercurio. “We’ll monitor the volume, we’ll be able to tell how many students max out their quota, and when.”
And what would be the timeline for that reevaluation?
“We need to give it a semester or two before we reexamine,” Mercurio says. “Then we’ll ask the question: did we provide adequate resources?”
Jessica Ullian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments