Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Education

USF upgrades library to aid learning, bring students together

TAMPA — Starbucks cups, sweaters, sheets of paper and pencils — the remains of what the University of South Florida called an "excavation" of its library's second floor.

USF officials have been hard at work clearing out the study session detritus in preparation for a major facelift this summer. The library will soon be home to a new "collaborative learning lab," with study nooks, research offices and more than 300 new computer workstations on the second floor. It will be open 24 hours a day, five days a week, starting in the fall.

The library, said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox, "is no longer simply a repository for books."

The learning lab is just one of the renovation projects now under way. Others include a new "jobs hub" on the library's main floor and an urban park along its south side, as well as updates to other lecture halls and classrooms across campus.

The improvements, considered fairly typical in the past, have become somewhat of a luxury in recent years as the state coffer for campus construction projects has all but dried up. The Public Education Capital Outlay fund, or PECO, is paid for by a tax on utilities. With more people making more of an effort to conserve energy, the fund has been shrinking the past few years.

Whereas state leaders look for solutions to the problem, universities must get creative to pay for projects.

The $2.2 million library lab, for instance, will be mostly paid for with student technology fees and tuition hikes imposed by the university. USF is spending an additional $1.5 million to install compact, movable bookshelves throughout the library, and to store overflow materials in a USF basement.

The technology fees, which amount to 5 percent of tuition per credit hour, were endorsed by students and implemented by USF trustees in 2009. They pay for various technology upgrades across campus.

The tuition hikes that helped pay for the project come from a portion of tuition revenues that are imposed by the university beyond tuition increases put in place by the Legislature.

Through a program known as "tuition differential," universities are allowed to increase tuition beyond legislative base hikes, provided the total hike does not exceed 15 percent per year. Universities are required to use the extra "differential" revenues for student need-based financial aid for undergraduates' educational enhancement.

Wilcox said that's exactly what the library project is all about.

"It's a substantial investment, yes," he said, "but one we believe benefits students."

For about eight hours a day, the new computer hub will be used for lab sessions in math and science courses. The goal, said Paul Dosal, USF's vice provost for student success, is to help students get through "gate-keeper courses" — classes in basic subjects that students must pass to graduate. A key way to do that is by encouraging "active" learning, versus passively listening to a lecture.

As for the small study areas, that's in response to student demand. The library's first floor, with the Starbucks and grouped tables and chairs for studying together, is always packed. USF officials are sure the second floor space will be just as popular.

Plus, getting students together on campus is an important priority for USF. It creates a more close-knit, lively environment. It helps with recruiting. It instills pride in alumni. It also helps attract donations.

"This," said Wilcox, "is a very positive move."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.

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