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At many colleges, academic services such as tutoring or writing centers are in the corners of campuses, scarcely known or used by students. Recognizing this, in September Hampshire College, a liberal arts institution in Massachusetts, decided to centralize its academic support programs in the library, opening a new center called the "knowledge commons." The college saw an immediate rise in student use of the various services.

Located on the first floor of the library, the commons includes one 20-seat classroom, three private rooms and one group-consultation room. The area is also outfitted with lounges, whiteboards, televisions and computers.

The library hired eight alumni to oversee programs within the academic center, including writing, public speaking, library research and media, quantitative resources, instructional technology, art gallery student exhibition support, teaching and learning, and holistic learning.

Five of these programs saw an uptick in attendance after moving to the library, according to the college. The public speaking program, which teaches skills in “persuasive public speaking, civic discourse and interpersonal communication,” saw 172 students in fall, up from 134 recorded in the 2016-17 academic year. Instructional technology helped 20 students in the fall, compared to five the previous year. The library research instruction program consulted with 38 students last semester, compared to 21 in the previous academic year.

Audrey Block, who graduated from Hampshire in May, was hired to oversee the quantitative resources center. Block appointed six students to work as paid tutors. Prior to moving to the library, the quantitative resources center was located on the third floor of the science building, Block said, which discouraged visits. Since the move to the library, attendance has risen quite significantly, from about five students every two weeks to the same number every day, Block said.

“Now it’s much more accessible to students who have basic questions,” Block said.

While the resource center accepts drop-ins in the evenings, Block is in the office between 1 and 9 p.m. and can see students during these times by appointment.

Block is in the process of interviewing a student mentor to teach coding, following several requests from students. The coding mentor will start in the next few weeks, she said.

The knowledge commons (phase one of the project) cost about $100,000 to build, according to library director Jennifer Gunter King. Next up, the library plans to build a new technology and art commons on the library’s ground floor and a community commons on the third floor.

The entire project is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. That funding is projected to run out by the end of next year.

King said she introduced the idea of centralizing Hampshire’s academic services shortly after arriving at the college in 2012, and received widespread support from staff. In 2013, the college took initial steps to centralize its academic services, when the writing center began holding help sessions in the library. After the writing center opened in the library, student attendance doubled, according to a news release.

To King, the project is only a pilot for now.

“It’s more of a funded investigation,” King said. When the grant concludes at the end of 2019, King said, the college will review the results and “decide how to maintain it.”

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