Experiences of end-users of the Research Commons as a learning space: a case study of the Howard College Library.
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The landscape of learning spaces in academic libraries is undergoing continual change, re-adaptation and reconfiguration. These winds of change are ushered in by the very nature of the dynamic information economy. Globally, information needs of end-users in academic libraries have dictated the changing space trends as in this case study of the Research Commons of the Howard College Library at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The demands of the changing information economy have directed institutions of higher learning en route to tailoring their outcomes with the view to increasing research output and productivity. In view of this, Academic libraries are finding themselves increasingly becoming significantly involved in the process of research support. The Research Commons (RC) is one such research support initiative of UKZN Libraries. This RC opened its doors, offering research facilities to a designate cohort of Master’s, Doctoral students, Researchers and Academic staff on the 01st of October 2008. Three years to date, the facility has grown in its popularity and patronage. The study of the end-users of the RC emanated from an express interest of the researcher who supports EUs in the capacity of a Senior Librarian. Time spent in the RC further, piqued the interest of the researcher, who was particularly keen about how EUs interacted with the elements of this space and their experiences thereof. This study was conducted with the express aim of understanding, through a qualitative inquiry the experiences of the end-users of the (RC) situated at the Howard College Library of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I the researcher in attempting to examine these experiences found myself having to address the following key research questions: What are the experiences of the end-users of the learning space? Who are the end-users of the Research Commons? With what elements of the Research Commons do the end-users interact? In what ways do the end-users interact with the different elements? The survey methodology approach was employed using the following instruments: Online and manual survey questionnaires Interviews Observations The different data collection techniques served to generate the richest data for the researcher to use in the interpretation of the results. An important element of this survey was an attempt to ascertain as deep an understanding of the experiences of the EUs in relation to their interaction with this designated space and its elements in their research journey. The findings of the survey demonstrated that the EUs of the RC did indeed encounter experiences that were precipitated by their interaction with the elements of this space. Significantly, it was revealed that EUs found that their time spent in the RC contributed positively to their research experiences. It was further established that interaction with the space and its elements influenced the way in which EUs work. In disclosing the desirability of the RC in meeting their research needs, the EUs were keen to render suggestions for changes and enhancements to the RC. Overall, it was verified that this study shed valuable evidence on how the EUs experienced the RC. Consequently, emanating through the interpretation of the data, the researcher was able to identify possible gaps in the provision of this research support unit which has perhaps added value to this study in providing library management with the necessary understanding in addressing the research needs of the EUs of the RC more than adequately.
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