MADLAB: The Evolution of the Technology Commons


The commons has been an important ideal for libraries and colleges for a long time: a collaborative, multi-department resource that is open to all members of a community. In academic libraries that ideal generally takes physical shape as a
learning commons, which brings together information, resources, and professionals to facilitate scholarship and learning. What does the evolution of the learning commons look like in the 21st century when learning also depends on access to technological tools? Does the commons change when there is a focus on technology and the use of that technology? Can a technology commons provide access equally to materials and knowledge on how to demonstrate learning with those materials? More importantly, can it be more than an access point for equipment, software and systems and expand to become a learning space that provides specialized opportunities for students to become fluent in information & digital literacies, digital scholarship creation, and a deep knowledge in information technology infrastructures?

These are some of the questions our Whittier College team made up of Samantha Alfrey, Instruction & Research Librarian, Shezad Bruce, Manager of Media Services, Anne Cong-Huyen, Digital Scholar, and Sonia Chaidez, Instructional Media Designer have been discussing this summer.

Between July 31 and August 4, 2017, this collaborative team, along with coach Angel David Nieves, convened at the Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship (ILiADS), hosted at The College of Wooster, to develop a plan for a new technology commons that we are calling MADLAB, to be housed in Wardman Library at Whittier College. Over the course of five intensive days, the team worked on space planning, organizational structure, student worker training, assessment, and future plans.

What is MADLAB?

MADLAB is a space that brings together multiple departments that function as various service points for digital tools: Classroom Services (formerly Media Services), Wardman Library, and Digital Liberal Arts. The collaboration will inhabit a space in Wardman Library that formerly housed materials from the Whittier Area Genealogical Society. The space will have a walk-up bar that will offer circulation of tech tools (e.g. laptops, cameras, cables, dongles, etc.) and in-person consultations about how to best use specific tools for assignments, scholarly projects, and research.

In the first year, MADLAB will offer a walk-up counter and technology checkout service. Adjacent space will be primarily used as collaborative work and gathering space. Some of the services offered by MADLAB include:

  • Circulation of equipment
  • Shared knowledge and expertise in the form of consultants and peer mentors
  • Classroom technology support
  • Workshops and training to build technology skills and enhance digital literacy

Our goal is to contribute to the mission of the college and to the larger liberal arts curriculum by helping to prepare students from diverse backgrounds to critically engage in a global information economy through co-curricular interdisciplinary practical education.

MADLAB Liaisons

In addition to the full-time staffing provided by Shezad Bruce of Classroom Services, MADLAB will also offer expert consultant liaisons from participating departments. At the moment, these departments include the library, DigLibArts, and IT Services. The participating programs are developing a liaison policy that allows participating departments to contribute expertise and to distribute the workload of supervising and training student workers. Liaisons will be present at the MADLAB for walk-up consultations a few hours every week. Liaisons will help shape the future of MADLAB, based on patron interaction and interest. MADLAB hopes that this model will allow other departments to join and contribute.

Campus Community

MADLAB’s goal is to alleviate confusion on Whittier College’s campus around technology services. Assessing the past few years of questions, we believe that departmental divisions may be confusing to patrons when they have a technology concern: do they contact Media, IT, Library, DigLibArts, or Event Services when they have a problem? From a staff perspective, is someone trained in one area qualified to help in another area, even if it might not be their direct department? If so, what and how can they help?

MADLAB staff and students will be trained to help in basic first-line support, which can alleviate basic problems and troubleshooting. The staff and students can then redirect more advanced questions to appropriate offices and departments, when they do not have the requisite knowledge to help patrons. They will also be cross-trained to a base level of core competencies in classroom services, library circulation, DigLibArts, and IT Services to be able to help with a range of questions and requests.

How is MADLAB different from the traditional ‘commons’ model?

One of the unique elements of MADLAB will be the training, hands-on education, and experiential learning that it offers to student workers. In the early pilot phases of the project, the participating departments will develop a plan to cross-train student workers in the areas of classroom services, Digital Liberal Arts, library circulation, information and digital literacies.

Students will participate in peer-to-peer education and mentorship, and will earn public facing badges that document their growing expertise. Eventually, these badges will be part of a digital badging system that can be shared across different digital platforms, e-portfolios, and co-curricular transcripts.

MADLAB’s soft opening will take place on Wednesday, August 17, 2017 at noon as part of Whittier College’s Poet Seminar Series. Other events including a grand opening and open houses will take place at the beginning of Fall semester.

The MADLAB team contributed to the writing of this post.