Collaborative Spaces, Part 2
In a recent webcast for Demco’s ongoing library issues webinar series, I discussed what makes collaborative spaces effective. With today’s technology we can collaborate anytime, anywhere, and with anyone around the globe. But sometimes we need to be face-to-face, and we need spaces that don’t merely allow collaboration to take place. We need spaces that encourage working collaboratively. Providing furniture that supports group work or a white board and monitor on the wall of a study room are a good start. But collaborative space demands more thought and planning to be highly effective. See the first post, on Adaptability, here: Collaborative Spaces, Part 1.
Level the Field
To be equal and effective contributors to a discussion, individual participants must have access to the knowledge pool and the ability to share their knowledge. Effective collaboration requires that knowledge sharing occur in a transparent and accessible way for the entire group. This sharing can be accomplished through technology or something as simple as magnet or pinup boards.
As project requirements broaden, the nature of what we collaborate on continues to evolve. Where once collaboration meant talking, or perhaps working together on a file, now it can mean integration of complex tools and visual and aural work with people scattered across the globe. Projects may require a place with not only space for the participants, but also infrastructure and tools to move fluidly through various mediums in order to illustrate, share, research, and debate ideas. In order to truly be a partner in in innovation, education, and communication, libraries need to offer tools that facilitate these exchanges.
The furniture we use sends cues about collaboration. Allowing each person to be an equal at the table is another way to level the field. Keep in mind our cultural subconscious. The two ends of a rectangular table are culturally understood to be the leadership and co-leadership positions. The seats immediately adjacent to the ends are influencing positions to the person at the head of the table. People in those seats have the ear of the leader. This arrangement is a great setup for running efficient meetings, but it does not promote equal participation in a collaborative venture. Circular tables, lounge seats in a conversational layout, or table configurations without a clear head invite collaboration and a feeling of equality.
People are more empowered when technology is accessible and easy to use, and great strides have been made in the furniture industry to make ease-of-use a reality. Software is available that facilitates easy sharing and co-editing functions in real time, while in the same room or across the globe. Although tools and technologies designed for collaboration and interaction have quickly become mainstays of culture, business, and education, many people do not have access to them in their daily lives. Libraries that offer these tools give those without access the opportunity to use them, thereby leveling the field on the macro scale.