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TL v65n2: Library-Land Boldly Explores New Frontiers
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Library-Land Boldy Explores New Frontiers


Regina A. Lee

This article is based on a presentation at the College and University Libraries Section pre-conference at the Tennessee Library Association Annual Conference (Memphis, TN) in April 2015.


TLA 2015 Pre-Conference Presentation Abstract

The College and University Libraries Section (CULS) will host panel discussions on providing a place for everyone at the table regarding library spaces, collections, and interactions. How have advances in STEM, social sciences or humanities allowed for the creation of new opportunities to meet our collective needs?

Presentation Abstract

Over the past year or so, several groups on campus have partnered with the library to establish cutting edge technological experiences for students and faculty. The Volpe Library is providing its expertise in supporting learning outside of the classroom and is reconfiguring space to best serve students. 

The presentation will provide a brief description of each endeavor, approximately six entities outside the library, and how the library benefits from these partnerships with other academic units on campus.  Tennessee Tech is one of very few universities, and the only one in the state, to have a VisCUBE in the HIVE (Hybrid Immersive Visualization Environment).



Libraries need to keep ahead, or at least keep up with the rapidly changing environment. Universities are placing much more emphasis on student success and retention. Many of our institution budget models now reward this. Libraries must be a part of this emphasis by taking an active role in order to stay relevant to students, faculty, and the university. So what are we do to achieve this?

Staying relevant is one of the biggest goals a library should have. Each library is different and will find ways to remain relevant and be of value to its institution and stakeholders. Some ways might involve re-programming library faculty and staff by changing our mindset to be more forward thinking and incorporating our library into the institution’s strategic plan. The library may need to be re-tooled, as in reallocating space for other initiatives. Libraries are often considered as having “neutral” available space for new initiatives to occupy. This severs the strings of being “attached” to a specific department or office. I’m sure you can think of other ways your library can promote its relevancy and value.

At Tennessee Technological University, several groups have partnered with the library to establish cutting edge technological experiences for students and faculty over the past year or so. The Angelo and Jennette Volpe Library is providing its expertise in supporting learning outside of the classroom and is reconfiguring space to best serve students. This will give graduates a competitive advantage in the job market, but the goal is to have more students creating jobs for themselves and others. It improves the undergraduate experience by giving students guidance in innovation and entrepreneurship.

The library is even part of a strategic plan by specifically listing visualization technology.  We want to find ways for the library to participate and add value. The library is interested in being involved programmatically and not just to provide physical space.

This presentation is a brief overview of the groups that have partnered with the Volpe Library by residing in the library and developing relationships. Six of these partners are not under the purview of the library, and three are a part of the library (Tutoring, Learning Support Program, and the Digital Media Lab).



The College of Business and the Office of Research and Economic Development have partnered together to transform about 6,000 sq.ft. of the top floor in the library into Tennessee Tech’s iCUBE. The iCUBE includes the lab formerly known as the Hybrid Immersive Visualization Environment (H.I.V.E.) and the Innovation Discovery Learning Institute, now known as the TTU Maker Space.  

This lab will house researchers, developers, artists, and undergraduate student assistants, all working to develop current uses for tomorrow’s technology. The iCUBE studies the application of virtual reality technologies to the problems of communication, conservation, and training. These studies guide the development of software for large-scale multi-wall immersive virtual reality systems, for head-mounted virtual and augmented reality systems, as well as for workstations, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. Resources in the iCUBE include the Oculus Rift for head-mounted displays, the VisCUBE for projecting augmented environments, and a scanner for creating 3D images. Computer programmers and graphic artists will be working there alongside project managers.

The iCUBE creates an open space that focuses on innovation, discovery, and entrepreneurship. It won’t matter if you are student, faculty, or staff. Instead, you can choose to be an innovator, inventor, entrepreneur, collaborator, mentor or partner. It’s an ambitious plan, but this change represents how our campus culture is changing and is supposed to change. No matter what someone’s major, department, or college, using this space can invigorate your experience at TTU. With this project, the College of Business and the College of Engineering are creating a model for cross-disciplinary collaboration.


The VisCUBE will provide a learning environment that is vastly different from the traditional classroom. It is a large-scale, multi-wall, immersive virtual reality system.  

Nursing student going inside a human heart in the VisCUBE.

The lab at Tennessee Tech will house an R&D team of professional research workers, developers and designers, innovative graphic artists, and undergraduate assistants all working to explore and implement current uses for tomorrow's technology. Those teams will apply virtual reality technologies to modern-day problems in medicine, engineering, communication, conservation, and training. The Business Media Center is partnering with Dr. Bahrat Soni to bring projects to visual life.

In March, Governor Haslam visited Tennessee Tech for the centennial celebration. During his visit, he stopped by the iCUBE for a tour, where he witnessed first-hand the innovative projects students are developing on campus using emerging technologies.

Governor Haslam with Dr. Barat Soni by a human heart.

Randy Boyd, Commissioner of Tennessee’s Economic and Community Development, views human body for study in the iCUBE.

Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift is a 3D, visual, head-mounted virtual reality system.  

Oculus Rift head gear.

There are four notable projects at Tennessee Tech using the Oculus Rift system:

Project 1: Dive into a stream and watch as pollution alters the life beneath the surface! Discover how contamination caused by sedimentation, chemicals, and storm runoff impact the underwater ecosystem, and witness the effects of your choices first-hand as you swim alongside the fish during each scenario!

Project 2: The Tennessee Aquarium and Tennessee Tech University’s iCUBE have partnered together to make a fully immersive game that allow players the chance to see the immediate effects of pollution on life within a stream (see below). Featuring indicator species native to Tennessee, we hope to raise awareness of both the dangers of pollution and the positive impact conservation measures can make in the health of rivers across the nation. 

The team developing the Aquarium game for the Oculus Rift was able to show Governor Haslam and Commissioner Boyd the progress made in two months on the Aquarium project to, allowing them to see the push for conservation education.

The Tennessee Aquarium's free app, powered by Tennessee Tech University, helps you plan your visit, make the most of your aquatic adventure, share highlights with family and friends. You can also enjoy many of the app’s features after your visit.

Project 3: Marvelous, Simple Machines was created to facilitate learning aboard Tennessee Tech's STEM Mobile. It offers students guidance in hands-on exercises designed to educate. This app focuses on simple machines and guides young minds through fun activities utilizing the core learning objectives for these lessons.

Project 4: The Tennessee Trucking Foundation's mission is to advance highway safety and save lives on Tennessee’s roadways through education and information. This application provides teens with the information they need to be safe on the highway.

Other applications might be the simulation and visualization of wind currents through cities, blood flow through arteries, and airflow around a car or airplane. In virtual reality environments, amputees can learn to ski without risking serious injury, bomb squads can disarm explosive devices with no chance of casualties, and surgeons can make perfect incisions and perform flawless operations before they ever touch a patient.

The College of Business and College of Engineering are sharing the costs of the renovation. This is a great example of the collaboration developing on campus. The Business Media Center will support the iCUBE with development and creative support on grant-related projects.

TTU Maker Space – IDLI

The Innovation Discovery Learning Institute (IDLI) will open soon on the top floor of the Volpe Library, occupying about 2500 sq.ft. The mission of the institute is to provide support for innovation and entrepreneurial activities and to serve as a campus focal point for those activities. The new facility will offer flexible space and a variety of technology to support student design teams, classes, workshops, and even individuals who want to develop an idea for something new. There will be space for teams to meet and collaborate, space for special classes or workshops, and a maker space.

The Maker Space will include 3D printers, a 3D scanner, and a variety of tools for fabricating models and small prototypes. The institute will be adjacent to the iCUBE, which can provide additional support to teams developing new ideas and businesses. Although the facility is being jointly developed by the College of Engineering and the College of Business, it will be available to any Tennessee Tech student. Many colleagues from Colleges of Engineering and Business and Volpe Library have been involved with this project.

The Maker Space was created as a University-wide center under the leadership of the Colleges of Engineering and Business. It serves as a focal point on campus to provide training, service, partnership, research, and evaluation in innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) to all disciplines. It encourages interdisciplinary teams and provides support and training to extend I&E activities into research and the classroom. The IDLI is addressing a key challenge confronting Tennessee Tech’s I&E efforts, how to scale the training model to have the broadest impact on the overall Tennessee Tech and regional community. This will be performed by constructing a model that integrates diverse student teams with diverse technology backgrounds (from within the College of Engineering, the Colleges of Business, Science and Agriculture, and from external research labs such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and from other colleges or grassroot community efforts). Programs supported through the IDLI include Innovation Techno-Entrepreneurship fellowships, competitions, and certificate programs. 

Services provided by IDLI: 

The College of Engineering and University focus curricular impact in I&E through the Innovation and Learning Discovery Institute. This center provides many services to student and faculty and staff including: 

• Competitions in innovation and entrepreneurship skills 
• Support in manufacturing, testing, and building representative prototypes 
• Workshops on startup opportunities 
• Courses in business development and startups, including new offering of the Lean Launchpad (new in 2014) 
• Supporting team projects through the local Launch TN site, the Biz Foundry 
• Incubator space 
• Access to prototype building tools 
• Professional development in innovation and entrepreneurship 

Example of how the space may be used:

The Senior Capstone Project in Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering Technology (SPECSET) at Tech integrates the phases of a real-world engineering design project—from the concept to the final client presentation—into a meaningful, hands-on undergraduate experience. Under the direction of a faculty adviser(s) student teams work with an industry client to solve an engineering problem.

Student work can be formal or informal programs. The space will support capstone and design programs. One example is a program offered by Mechanical Engineering Professor Stephen Canfield where teams have an idea for a product and have 10 weeks to develop it into a viable product. That project will engage juniors and seniors along with graduate students. The space could host competitions such as hackathons, where teams work 36-72 hours on the best app to solve a common challenge. The space will be open access and offer 3D printers and other equipment. This space promises to be a great place to develop products and to explore creating new businesses.


Centralized tutoring came about when colleagues from the Volpe Library, Student Success Centers, Learning Villages, and the College of Education--together with chairpersons from Mathematics and English departments--met on several occasions to better structure the tutoring operations across campus. After meetings with all the involved departments, a new structure for tutoring was established. That new structure resulted in placing tutoring within the Volpe Library, about 1800 sq.ft., with one person coordinating tutoring operations across campus including the Learning Villages, Student Success Centers, and various departments. For the 2014 Fall semester, 2,212 hours of tutoring were provided in the Volpe Library. Additionally: 

All tutors receive peer tutor training.  
All tutors have the opportunity to be College Learning & Reading Association (CRLA) certified 
Pay rates are standardized 
Tutoring statistics are being gathered campus‐wide

Learning Support Program

The Learning Support Program (LSP) offers a variety of academic support services and assistance programs for freshmen, transfer students, teacher candidates, and international students at Tennessee Tech University. Academic support services include assistance in developing writing, reading, and mathematics skills, as well as COMPASS testing for placement. Learning Support Program provides learning assistance for students in entry-level courses, such as English, math, and reading. Learning Support is now one of the three divisions of the Library, with a designated Coordinator of Learning Support, four faculty support instructors, and three adjunct instructors. Their work area is about 1000 sq.ft.

To help at-risk developmental math students pass their preparation for college-level algebra, the university’s Learning Support Program will institute a peer-mentoring and tutoring program this year. The mentors will serve as additional academic support to the students who have been identified as at-risk and also help them feel more connected to Tennessee Tech. Tutors have always done more than just help with content; they have provided support when students share life struggles that might keep them from being successful in college. If the program is successful, we will expect to see more students pass the class and fewer of them withdraw from the university. 

Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence 

The Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence is being established to assist our faculty with the implementation of the latest pedagogical techniques and teaching and learning technologies.  It is primarily designed to help faculty struggling with their teaching, but anyone can benefit. This center is located on the lower level of the library in about 1500 sq.ft.

Innovation Institute

The mission of the Innovation Institute is to foster the effective and innovative use of technology supporting excellence in the educational mission of the faculty of TTU. Our services are still the same for applications for instruction like iLearn, BlueJeans, Camtasia Relay, Top Hat Monocle, and more. Technology for teaching in the way of equipment, content tools, media tools, web tools, social media tools, and utility tools, are shown and taught to anyone desiring them.

Innovation Institute work area.

The Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, the Innovation Technology Institute, and the Office of the Provost sponsored a series of workshops this spring for faculty development held in the library. The seminars covered a variety of pedagogical and managerial topics related to teaching in the classroom and online. The Institute occupies about 1800 sq.ft.

Digital Media Lab

The Digital Media Lab is a collaborative effort between the library and Information Technology Services. The lab will provide up-to-date, state-of-the-art technology for students to digitally create their project using sound and digital cameras. It is still in the planning stages as we carve out a space for it on Level 1 of about 1500 sq.ft.

Information Technology Services (ITS)

Information Technology Services provides computer resources, services, and support for instruction, research, and administration at Tennessee Technological University. A branch location is on the main floor of the library to maintain the computer lab area and make technology equipment available for student use.

Information Technology Services (ITS) Desk.

Media Production Studio

The Media Production Studio is no longer a part of the library, although it is still located in the library, primarily because of its sound-proof studio. The studio is now a part of the Office of Communication and Marketing and is a one stop shopping headquarters for all video production needs. Anything from recording a simple PowerPoint presentation to a full-blown documentary can be done here. The Studio is equipped with a brand new LED lighting system, two high definition cameras, two teleprompters, and six wireless microphones.

A look inside the Media Production Studio.

Many broadcasts originate in the Media Production Studio, such as the Watson Brown show, hosted by Tennessee Tech’s head football coach, and other local PBS shows. This area is about 2,900 sq.ft.


Centrally located on campus
Serves the objectives if integrating innovation and entrepreneurship into the curriculum
Showpiece for recruiting
Attract external support
Supported by all College units as well as College of Business and others


Stay better informed with University activities and research
Get to know more colleagues
Higher visibility of the library by administration, faculty, and students
Higher gate count for library statistics


Less room for print books and journals
Less study space for students
About 19,000 sq.ft. reassigned (out of 105,000 sq.ft. assignable) at Tennessee Tech
6,200 sq.ft. for “new” initiatives
2,800 sq.ft. for library “new” initiatives
86,000 sq.ft. remaining for library use
Fewer parking spaces available due to increased staffing of new initiatives and visitors


There are many other ideas you can think of for the library to get involved in your institution’s activities and interests. At Tennessee Tech, the library formed its own art committee, whose main charge was to decorate the library. Student art, and other purchases, are displayed in a prominent place in the library. The library even sponsors a monetary art award every other year given to a student. The winner is asked to display the piece of art in the library.

We are faced with more challenges in the library field every day. Staying relevant and having value to the institution is crucial. These are just some of the new ideas and ventures that many libraries are already experiencing.


Conversations with David Brown, Systems Programmer, iCUBE.
Innovation Institute:
Media Production Center:
Tennessee Tech Library:
Tennessee Tech Photographic Services
TTU Maker Space (IDLI):


Regina A. Lee, Assessment Librarian at Tennessee Technological University, can be reached at


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