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Plymouth State University, Lamson Library and Learning Commons
by Michael Davidson
Lamson Library seen through autumn foliage

Plymouth State University is an idyllic New England campus nestled in Plymouth, New Hampshire, in the rural expanse between Quebec and Boston, and shares a bit of the climate and culture of each, as in It’s wicked cold up here, eh? Lamson Library serves the research needs of Plymouth State University and offers free patron access to the residents of Plymouth and Holderness, which have a combined population of about 9,000. The library has three floors, but countless stories.

Technology Depots
A panoramic photograph of a nearby mountain pond adorns the wall. An incomplete sculpture --an abortive trial run--its next to the 3D printers, which have gone quiet for the night. These are two of the most visible signs of Lamson’s new Print Depot. In addition to the aforementioned 3D printers, the Depot houses a large format printer, and a high-end digital photo printer.
Taken in the nearby White Mountains, this panorama showcases the new Print Depot’s capabilities

Adjacent to the Print Depot is the Equipment Depot, in which students and faculty can use Raspberry Pi microcomputers, soldering kits, environmental controllers (for temperature and lighting), a sewing machine, and other tools. Combined, these Depots have all the items commonly associated with a makerspace, but calling it a makerspace would be trendy, and we yankees consider trendiness unfashionable.
These 3D printers have been heavily used by sculpture students and faculty

This 3D print job was ended prematurely

Open Labs and Integrated Clusters
The Depots, along with two Open Labs—collaborative spaces stocked with emerging tech--are the latest manifestations of a radical reorganization afoot at Plymouth State. The reorganization began in 2015 with the hire of President Donald Birx, and is rapidly refashioning Plymouth’s traditional academic structure. Birx’s vision calls for the dissolution of departments and the creation of Integrated Clusters: nimble, interdisciplinary bodies tasked with conceiving projects that link classroom learning to real world outcomes. The integrated cluster model is tantalizing, entrepreneurial, and--by president Birx’s admission--experimental. It is, as yet, untested in all of academia.
Open Labs are some amalgamation of conference hall, classroom, and multimedia lab. The labs are intended for ad hoc projects, not recurring classes or meetings. The Open Lab on the main level welcomes you with a whoosh, as supermarket--nay!--Star Trek-style motion sensing doors anticipate your entry. The lab is replete with retro-futurist furniture, on which the uninitiated aren’t sure whether to sit, lie, or rest their feet. A triad of big screen displays occupies the south, west, and north walls of the lab. Featuring an array of wired and wireless inputs, the displays facilitate planned presentations or spontaneous collaborations.

The main level Open Lab has a plethora of desks, chairs, benches, and stools to accommodate groups


The Open Lab being used by several small student groups

If automatic doors and exotic seating don’t get your innovative juices flowing, the downstairs Open Lab is sure to stimulate. This lab, in the inner sanctum, houses a One Button Studio, which films you in front of a green screen and stores the video on your USB drive, all with the press of a single button. Users of the One Button Studio can edit and polish their multimedia creations on one of the lab’s high-end Mac or Windows computers.flib170206.jpg
Two students rehearse in the One Button Studio in the lower level Open Lab

The main attraction, however, is an Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that immerses the wearer in multi-sensory worlds. Using the Oculus Rift, instructors may expose their students to events and places long ago and far away. The Rift also has the potential to become the focal point of ambitious computer science capstone projects.

A Short History
Lamson Library’s main entrance since the 1999 expansion

Lamson Library wasn’t always a technological hub. Throughout much of the twentieth century, Lamson was an ordinary academic library affixed to a normal school (a teachers’ college) located in a bucolic New England borough. In 1999, Lamson completed an expansion to serve its growing student body, and in 2006, it reemerged as a Learning Commons. In the decade to follow, library research services, the technology help desk, the writing center, academic support services, and cafe would dwell side-by-side under the Learning Commons’ roof. A student could find scholarly articles, meet a tutor, get writing tips, obtain help with wireless printing, and then charge a quick dinner to their meal plan, all without stepping out in the frigid New Hampshire winter. Students flocked to the Learning Commons; gate counts increased 46 percent in the first year and an additional 3 percent the year after.
Even as Lamson thrived academically, economic forces threatened its vitality. Since 2007, a confluence of fiscal headwinds has buffeted the university and its prospective students. The details are too mundane to recount here, as the story unfolded much the same at hundreds of other university libraries during the same period: recession hit, enrollment declined, legislators cinched the purse strings, and library budgets shrank double digits. We are still recovering from these setbacks.

Library Collections and Technology
Today, Lamson has over 350,000 books and media in its general and special collections. It also provides access to 150,000 e-books and tens of thousands of online journals. Students and other patrons are fortunate to have a solid technology infrastructure that undergirds their library research. The library proxy server (EZ Proxy) integrates seamlessly with the campus single sign-on system (CAS) to maximize access to resources while minimizing impediments. This means, whether they are on or off campus, researchers rarely encounter more than the one small hurdle that is the university portal login screen. This is true whether the researcher is using the library discovery layer (WorldCat Discovery), Google Scholar, or another research service.
Lamson serves a student population of 5,050 FTE and a local community of about 9,000. We’re all proud of the work we do for our patrons, even the ones who are going to give me a hard time for not mentioning their efforts by name. In this period of creative destruction, Lamson Library and Learning Commons is situated to be an invaluable facility for patrons of all kinds well into the future.

Copyright 2017 by Michael Davidson.

About the author:
Michael Davidson is Assistant Professor and Web Services Librarian at Plymouth State University. He enjoys hiking and ultimate Frisbee. He has two sons, ages 5 and 8.