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Enhancing the TCoop experience

New partnership creates a playbook for supporting student success

Student Government, University Libraries and President Caslen teamed up last fall to improve the student experience in Thomas Cooper Library. Their project — adding individual seating and collaborative study space to Level 4 —  moved at whirlwind speed. To receive the necessary funding, the Level 4 refresh was planned, implemented and completed by the first day of spring classes.

I have never seen any campus project move this fast,” says Luke Rankin, Student Body President. “The library leaders have listened to our concerns about quality space in TCoop, and they’ve let us play a key role. Students now have more study space that’s fresh and collaborative, and close to 100 additional seats.”

The goal of the project was to enable more students to use the library as a place for learning and collaboration, while still preserving the rich print collections the Libraries have built over the years, says Dean of Libraries Tom McNally.

“Student enrollment has increased, but we haven’t had the funding to increase seating. The library is central to campus, and it has to be a place for students and faculty to sit, study, collaborate and conduct research,” McNally says. “Most academic libraries across the country share this plight, and many of them solve the problem by quietly disposing of paper volumes to create more seating areas. We are opposed to that approach.

“With the support of Student Government, the Senate Committee on Libraries and President Caslen, we secured new storage space for the low-usage material on Level 4,” McNally says. “When Thomas Cooper Library was built in the 1970s, it was designed with elevators and restrooms on one side of the building and an open, expansive space on the other. If you can imagine the library without its support beams, you’d see an acre of space on each floor. It’s really the perfect configuration for a building that must grow and change with the student population. The Level 4 refresh lets us capitalize on that prescient design and get the most out of a great space.”

Miranda Bennett, Associate Dean for Collections, oversaw the Level 4 project.

“Level 4 housed many bound volumes of older print journals, especially in the sciences, and most are available to our faculty and students online through library databases and electronic journal subscriptions,” Bennett says. “We asked our bibliographers for input about which items to move, and we acquired an offsite warehouse for accessible storage of those materials. Many books and high-use print journals remain on Level 4, with shelving incorporated into the dynamic new floorplan.

“Student Government selected new furnishings and designed the arrangement of the floor,” she says. “They provided so much insight into how new furniture and design features could contribute to their success. Their enthusiasm for the entire project was really energizing.”

Rankin believes the Level 4 changes are important on many levels.

“Of course, it’s a big win for the students. We’ve been very intentional with the selection of furniture and the floor plan. The new Level 4 gives them new options for studying — in groups, pairs or by themselves.

“The project was done quickly, to high standards, and at a time when students were off-campus,” Rankin says. “It may serve as a feasibility study for the proposed Russell House renovation.”

McNally emphasizes the planning that went into reducing disruption of services for students and faculty.

“The transformation of Level 4 took place over the winter break according to a strict timeline,” he says. “I asked all faculty to let us know how we could improve the process, and they let us know ."

The renovation timeline:

  • December 9 – 15
    A professional library moving company prepared the materials on Level 4. The space and materials remained available as usual.
  • December 16 – 23
    Level 4 was closed and collections housed there were unavailable. Movers packed and transported materials and shelving to the new storage facility, and remaining materials were rearranged.
  • December 24 – January 1
    While the library was closed for the holidays, painting, carpet cleaning, and other work was done.
  • January 2 – 12
    The new furniture was installed according to the plan developed by the students. Level 4 was closed and library staff retrieved items as requested.
  • January 13
    Classes started and Level 4 was again open for business

Faculty and staff who have questions or concerns may contact Miranda Bennett at mhbennet@mailbox.sc.edu or 7-3142.


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