A week ago I got back from several days at a conference in Vancouver: it was a great conference. and also a fascinating city: not only beautiful to look at, but inspiring as a globally diverse culture with a people-centered vibe. One example: the most casual visitor can easily navigate Vancouver’s swift, ubiquitous public transit system. The empowering, productive, shared experience of the Vancouver bus system is the same experience we want our students to have in the library! Or, walking any street in downtown Vancouver, one can look up to see a variety of striking residential high-rises, each brightened by human features like green gardens and windchimes and flags -and each framing long vistas toward the bays or mountains. In between these buildings are green commons where people are reading and playing. This unusual city layout even has its own name: Vancouverism. In a similar way, we try to create beautiful reading spaces and vistas in our library (think of our atrium, or low shelves and ‘green spaces’ interspersed in ‘high rise’ fishbowls.) Experiencing the power of a well-designed urban environment at this scale reinforces the importance of planning our part in the university “city,” knowing that a great university ‘city’ can have a strong positive impact on student well-being. The conference was full of great ideas about how to do this.
One of the best sessions I attended was a world-wide overview of major trends in campus planning, in light of disruptions in higher education. The economics of higher education make suburban colleges hard to sustain (the economies of urban environments make for other challenges, but greater sustainability). A solution: bringing “urbanism” to suburban universities, “densifying” building and creating campus-community integration (think Cal Poly Hot House, or bringing faculty, community, or staff housing onto university land), integration of residential, academic, and service/storefront spaces on campuses (University of Maryland was an example, as were several projects at the University of British Columbia). During this presentation the speaker cited important new, unique research on this topic: it turns out the research is by Cal Poly City and Regional Planning professor Amir Hajrasouliha, and his research is available through Digital Commons! “Campus Does Matter: The Relationship of Student Retention and Degree Attainment to Campus Design.” The gist: major factors impacting student retention and attainment are urbanism, greenness, and on-campus residency.
Although there was only a handful of librarians at this conference I was struck by how much librarians and planners have in common: shared goals (student learning), a people-centered philosophy; and shared interest in designing formal and informal learning environments and experiences. Like librarians, planners are concerned with the long-term future of scholarship and learning; and think a lot about the role of technology in both. Planners are also surprisingly scholarly: every session offered “learning objectives” and virtually every presenter mentioned key authors or books that had inspired and informed their work. I’ve begun reading through all these enticing books, beginning with keynote speaker Kentaro Toyama’s “Geek Heresy.” (“If technology is going to improve the lives of the world’s poorest, it must be grounded in a deep understanding of human behavior and an appreciation for cultural differences.”)
Another keynote was by Cathy Davidson, director of the Futures Initiative at CUNY. Her latest book is Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. Davidson has also taught a course about 21st century literacies (attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness, design, storytelling, critical consumption of information, digital participation, ethics and advocacy, and learning, unlearning, and relearning). Her inspiring talk focused on how to counter structural inequality in our society through design of structures, practices, and strategies that put equality and partnership at the core. One strategy: ask students to contribute what they learn to public knowledge; another: graduation and a job aren’t the only goals of a degree: what can we do to help students also “end with a mission for life (after college)”? Davidson’s recommended book to read Nick Sousanis’ “Unflattening” – which uses comics to show that “perception is always an active process of incorporating and reevaluating different vantage points.” It’s in my queue too.
Have a wonderful weekend,