Santa Clara University

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Harrington Learning Commons, Sobrato Technology Center and Orradre Library

The Learning Comons, Technology Center, and Library is a four-level building occupying the site of SCU's former Orradre Library. With nearly twice the square footage, high-tech collaborative rooms, and almost 1 million volumes, it is the new smart heart of campus.

Opened in 2008, the four-story 194,000- square-foot intellectual center of campus—better known as the Joanne E. Harrington Learning Commons, Sobrato Family Technology Center, and Orradre Library—has been embraced by the campus and local community alike. “One of our motivations was to create a destination spot on campus,” says Ronald Danielson, vice provost for information services and Santa Clara University’s chief information officer. “The central design goal of this building was to create a space where people could interact with each other and further the idea of integrated education.”

From its architecture to its furnishings, the new Learning Commons, Technology Center, and Library blends the traditional with the futuristic, allowing for conventional, solitary scholarly experiences while encouraging more current, collaborative learning. Twenty-five study rooms, three terraces, three video viewing and taping rooms, and 1,100 reader seats including carrels and movable lounge furniture—each with a wired network connection—provide extensive collaborative learning opportunities. An automated retrieval system houses less frequently used print resources, simultaneously optimizing the use of building space and offering users quick access to more than 550,000 volumes of print material, in addition to the 250,000 volumes on open shelves. “This is a long-term investment by the University that will pay long-term dividends,” says Danielson. “This building will be able to adapt to new technologies, new learning styles, and new pedagogical and scholarship needs.”

It’s no surprise that the building passed a gate count of 1 million visitors in merely 13 months. An impressive number, but certainly not the only success indicator of this initiative. “You have to look at it more qualitatively than quantitatively,” stresses Danielson. “Faculty hold office hours here because they can use the technology in the collaborative rooms to share information with students, and sit and talk about ideas instead of having them all huddle around one computer screen.”

He adds: “When you start seeing the same people in the same spots day after day, you know that this project is a success. Such things are difficult to put numbers behind, but they really are the soul of the building.”