Books, Coffee and Conversation

Guest Correspondence

Visit the Jane Bancroft Cook Library on the New College of Florida Campus today and you’ll find what you would have found nearly any day in the last half-century: students tucked away in places all over the library. They are seated at carrels, taking notes, or leaning against stacks, books opened around them. And during finals or senior thesis season, the library is so full at all hours it resembles a dorm.

That is as it should be. Universities are, in a sense, time machines. They are places where the past meets the present, where today’s students take the learning of the past and make it their own. So, it is not surprising that libraries are at the center of every university. They house books and journals and, now, the front ends of databases. Libraries offer students access to the records of the thoughts, conclusions and work of all those who have gone before.

Since its construction 30 years ago, students from New College and the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee have used the Cook library to access not just books, but computers to call up any of the millions of periodicals available.

Libraries, however, do far more than this. In the last decade, the library has been a place where students work with staff and student mentors in the Writing Resource Center or Quantitative Research Center or Language Resource Center to develop their expository, statistical analysis and communication skills.

Students returning to the library this month saw an even more vivid change. Yes, there still are rows and rows of bookcases, offering reference books, literature—and every single New College graduate’s senior thesis project, dating back more than 50 years. But now a coffee shop adorns the southeast corner, and colorful and comfortable seating and gathering places sprawl across the east half of the floor.

The appeal of coffee is, of course, no secret; ask any student or faculty member. You’d expect coffee to draw lots of people to the library, and it does. However, we did not add the coffee or the comfy furniture because Cook Library lacks for visitors.

We did it align the library with another central purpose of the university. Universities like New College of Florida and USF-SM are far more than warehouses of information and ideas. They are places to share and expand on ideas, with the purpose of creating something new.

That requires collaboration. There have always been ways of formal collaboration – from group projects in classes to New College’s keystone feature, the senior thesis, or

USF-SM’s service learning projects, both of which involve partnerships between students and faculty advisors.

Informal collaboration can be just as valuable. That is why the expansion last year of New College’s Heiser Natural Sciences Center last year included spaces where students and faculty could sit together, outside of class, and scribble on whiteboards or just talk.

And now we have a coffee shop in the library. It adds one more way to encourage students to pause, meet, talk and share. The sociologist may have a conversation with the biologist, or the economist with the psychologist. They will understand each other better. They may even develop a better understanding of our world and share it for the common good. And no matter what they do, the coffee smells delicious.

Dr. Donal O’Shea is president of New College of Florida.

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