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TL v59n2:Build the Students What They Want
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 59 Number 2



Build the Students What They Want


Theresa Liedtka, Library Dean
Valarie Adams, Cataloging/Authorities Coordinator
Virginia Cairns, Head of Reference and Instructional Services

University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

Presented at the TLA 2009 Conference

Hello and good afternoon.  My name is Theresa Liedtka and I am Dean of the Lupton Library at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  Thank you for attending our session on how we involved students and faculty in the planning and design of our new library, scheduled to open Spring 2012.

With me today are my colleagues Valarie Adams, Coordinator of Cataloging and Authority Records and Virginia Cairns, Head of our Instruction and Reference Services Department. Virginia, Valarie and I are all members of Internal Library Building Committee that has been working for about 19 months on the planning a new library building for UTC. Our goal for the session is to share some of what we learned in that time with you.    

I will kick off and provide project background information, and then discuss some of the formal opportunities for input offered to faculty and students, including two campus committees, numerous meetings with campus stakeholders, and the annual library survey sent to all members of the campus community. Valarie will talk about the informal opportunities for input offered to the campus and the thousands of suggestions we received as a result. Virginia will discuss our road trips to visit other new libraries and share some of our favorite design features. We talk for about 30 minutes and then we will be happy to respond to your questions.  


A renovation to the current UTC library had been on the UTC Capital Planning list for about 20 years, and top priority for about 8. But alas, once the list was submitted to THEC, and combined with other UT and TBR priorities, we could never quite make it to the top of the list. 

Then, two things happened. In 2006 we switched gears and asked for a new building rather than a renovation to current library. We did this for a number of reasons and in 2007, Governor Phil Bredesen, in addition to funding five new higher education buildings, which is about the norm, decided to add funding for three additional buildings to his budget due to a particularly good business tax collection year in the State. UTC’s new library was third on the list.

Prior to funding, the only efforts directed to the planning of the new library involved two meetings I had with the Head of UTC Facilities; literally two meetings.  At these meetings we reviewed the special issue on library architecture produced each year by Library Journal.  We used the data provided by LJ to develop estimates on the amount of square footage we thought we needed (180,000) and potential cost of the project ($48 million). We are working with those two sets of figures today. 

I look back now and shake my head about just how little we knew and at the crazy journey that we were about to begin.  Building a new library, for most of us, will be a once in lifetime event. I simply had no idea how complex the process would be.

Faculty and Student Involvement

One of the first decisions we made was to set-up a New Building wiki, which you see behind me. 

 We created the wiki for a number of reasons:

  • We wanted to enhance communication with faculty and students using 2.0 technologies,
  • We wanted a place to centrally store and access documents and files in multiple formats, and
  • We wanted to document our experiences so that others could learn from them.

AT UTC we believe the library exists to serve the students and faculty; that the Library is a campus resource.  As such, faculty and student involvement in the early stages of the building process was of paramount importance.   If someone didn’t suggest an idea, and we didn’t think of it, it couldn’t happen. From the start, we put people, not books, at the center of our new library.   We knew we wanted our building to become our students 3rd place.    

 Our design process put a tremendous amount of effort into:

  • giving students and faculty a voice in the planning and design process, 
  • actively listening and recording what they said, and
  • most importantly, taking what they said seriously. 

Library and Campus New Building Committees

The first two avenues for sustained and critical input were the two campus building committees established to draft our program statement.  A program statement, for those not familiar with a building project, is written description of everything we want in the building.

The first committee to form was our Internal Library Building Committee or the ILBC.  This is a group of 8 librarians and 2 staff members who volunteered to be a part of the process and represent every library department.  The ILBC also includes our two principle architects, Andy Roth and Ray Boaz, and UTC’s Director of Engineering Services, Janet Spraker.    This group has met just about twice a month, every month, since August 2007 and continues to meet regularly today, shaping the new library in our students’ best interest.

The second group to form was the University planning committed, called the New Library Program Statement Committee.  This group was created by UTC Chancellor, Dr. Roger Brown.   This is a big, diverse group and that was our plan, we wanted to hear from multiple voices with diverse perspective. 

The group includes:

  • 9 students representatives including undergraduates and graduate students,
  • 14 faculty representatives from each of our four Colleges,
  • 5 librarians including UTC,  and the directors of Chat State, and the Chattanooga Public Library,
  • UT was represented, and then there were
  • Numerous campus departments were represented who would be impacted by the new library and involved, at some point, in the process, including information technology, food services, landscaping, fundraising, and others

I know this may sound a little weird, but I Iove to write committee charges.  I think they are so important and the NLPSC charge is one of my favorites because it speaks to the fact the collaborative nature of librarians and libraries 

Two of my favorite passages are:

The library “…reflects an organic combination of people, collections, services, and facilities, whose sole purpose is to assist users in the process of transforming information into knowledge. “   i.e., we are here to serve. 

And then this “technological change is transforming libraries and has rendered obsolete the concept that a library exists in isolation and self sufficiency.  Libraries exist in a collaborative, complex, information-driven world. The modern library must be dynamic and future-oriented.” i.e.  we must collaborate to achieve great success.

And that is what we tried to do.  These two committees have worked together hand in glove.  The way the process worked was that the ILBC would explore and develop concepts and proposals, and then take them to the University Committee for discussion, approval, and literally a vote.   

The first time I did this I was terrified.  What if they didn’t vote as we wanted?  However, I had heard from too many faculty about pointless committee to not have them play a serious role in the process. 

For example, at December 7th meeting of the University Committee I presented the group with three ways to arrange the collection’s stacks, the associated square footage implications, and the library’s recommended approach: 
traditional shelving, compact shelving, or a hybrid approach.  

The group then discussed the advantages and disadvantages to each approach from a patron perspective and a library perspective, and then the committee voted on which arrangement they wanted, the compact stacks arrangement.  This was the option recommended by the ILBC!    This approach was repeated over and over again.  We present options and recommendations, discussed advantages and disadvantages and then let the University Committee vote on the decision.

The University Committee completed two other interesting exercises that I wanted to tell you about.    The first is that at one meeting was asked the University Committee to engage in a “visioning” exercise.   Each committee member was given two minutes to describe/present their ideal library for UTC.   No other guidelines were given and folks were given carte blanche to discuss anything they wanted.

We then took these brief statements and synthesized them down to concepts and categorized them in one of three areas:  architectural vision, patron environment, and themes. 

Then both the ILBC and the University Committee voted on which features where most important to them, and gave our architect guidance in terms of the look and feel we were seeking.   The University Committee met for the academic year, and will be called back to together now that we have final plans for the interiors.  The internal committee continues to meet today. 

Campus Meeting

The 2nd way we received formal input involved me going to a lots and lots of meetings, and talking, and listening.  I volunteered to meet with any academic department that would meet with me; I contacted the leadership of standing faculty and students groups and asked to be on their agenda.  I was shameless in my enthusiasm and promotion of the new library. 

A summary of these meetings include:

  • Campus governance groups, such as  faculty senate, student government association, graduate student association, graduate council, alumni council, UTC Board of Trustees, and more
  • I then met with every campus division and division head, including athletics, student development,  facilities, fundraising, information technology, and more
  • About half a dozen academic departments took me up on my offer, including english, art, communication, and social work.
  • And finally we held five open campus meetings and invited all students and faculty to come and share their thoughts and opinions

In all, I participated in about 40 meetings …….the sole purpose of which was to give students, faculty, and staff input into the new building process.    It was crazy busy at times, but well worth the effort. 

Library Survey

Finally the last formal means of input involved our library survey

The Lupton Library has asked the campus to complete an annual survey for the past 5 years.   The structure of the survey is the same from year to year; we ask 20 consistent questions on services, collections, and facilities.  And then each year we include a series of 4 to 7 new questions that seek input on potential new services or changes. 

As part of our 2008 survey we asked a series of new building related questions and a faculty member from the University Committee helped us draft the faculty questions.

For example, one of the questions we asked faculty was about the environment of the faculty lounge as the slide behind me shows.  Another question we asked faculty was how to circulate study rooms as our current method is do unfair. 

Should we assign or circulate them on a:

  • Daily first come, first served
  • Giving the key to the department and let them work it out
  • One big room with individual, lockable workstations
  • Smaller rooms, shared with other faculty to maximize use,  for a  semester
  • or whether we should provide at all

In this case, first-come, first-served was the most popular choice.

Of the students we asked:

If we built quiet study lounges, would they use them?
If we built a 24/5 space, would they use it?
If so, should there be a security presence?
And how should we furnish it?
What equipment should we include?

We tried to ask meaningful questions, questions that needed sincere input. 

Our goal is for the new library to be the academic heart of campus and ultimately to put it at the heart of campus.  We felt it was not just desirable to receive input, but rather required what we get as much input as possible.  The input gathered via committees, meetings and our survey have absolutely shaped the outcome of our building.   It was invaluable.   

Now I will turn it over to Valarie who will talk with you about some of the informal opportunities we provided the campus for input.   Valarie ……

We have tried very hard to make the process of creating a new library open to all of our patrons. If you look at our library homepage (, you will note that there is a link to new building information at the top right of the page. This leads to the wiki that we created to document the whole new building process:

As Theresa mentioned, here you will find project facts, committee charges and minutes, timelines, and site visit information. There is also a link to our program statement which was submitted in June 2008. If you want to take a look at it, we’ve got the pdf right here.

Everything that went into our program statement was based on suggestions made by students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others in our community. We gathered this information from committees, planning exercises, library instruction sessions, surveys, and people just stopping us on the street. We used a website suggestion box, also, which took the form of a permanent banner advertisement on our library home page for about a year, and it still pops up every once in a while. We also put the suggestion box URL on our online newsletter and bathroom newsletter. And we paid particular attention to those suggestions that came from students.

On our wiki, we’ve posted the suggestions that we have received for the new library in a seemingly endless array of Excel spreadsheets. You will be able to find these spreadsheets under “Suggestions and other Considerations” in the Supporting Materials portion of our Program Statement.  We also used keywords for ideas and noted who submitted them.

In the spreadsheets, you will find these major requests: ADA accessible, bathrooms, and green design. As we solicited suggestions, we quickly found that our students wanted the library to meet a variety of needs. Academic, social, entertainment & recreational, and yes, personal needs also. Requests included: fiction novels for light reading, make it comfortable and homey, lots and lots of windows, Starbucks, Starbucks, and Starbucks. We also had a request for a meditation room.

ADA – bathrooms – collections – design – green – space – technology – coffee. Those are words that we heard time after time.

We used our library instruction classes to solicit suggestions. Student feedback from these classes indicated that a café with coffee and snacks rated at the top of that list at 35 percent. Starbucks was the word most used when that request was made. And we understand that it will indeed be Starbucks that we get.

Technology was second student request at almost 20 percent. And almost 16 percent went for unusable answers such as NASCAR races on TV, a lazy river, and monkeys eating bananas. Although, we did note in our research a new library in Monterey, California, that features a pod of otters.

Where Are the Otters?

We have a running joke with our architect, Andy, when he shows us a new drawing. Where are the otters?! Where’s the water feature?! Where’s the fireplace?!   And if you would like a little light reading, download our program statement and you will see that we are addressing all student wants and needs on this list., with the exception of parking which the state says we can’t pay for with our new library money. But we will have lots of study rooms, technology, comfy furniture, windows and other great stuff that our students want.


Britney Spears has a song where she sings “You want a piece of me?”  And we quickly found out early in the process that, Well, yes, it seems everybody wants a piece of our physical space.   We could not accommodate everybody that wanted in, but we have formed partnerships with other university offices and believe these partnerships will be a great benefit for our students.

Our list of our partnerships is included in the Program Statement. We will have a Student Academic Support Center in the new library consisting of a Writing Center, Advising, Tutoring, Student Success, and Supplemental Instruction. The Graduate Student Association will have offices in there too, along with a technology room for students with disabilities. Also, our Walker Teaching Resource Center which assists university faculty will be in the building.

Road Trips

So, after collecting suggestions, and keeping everything in mind that our students wanted, we went on a few road trips. And here is Virginia to share that with you.

We knew that in addition to gathering all of this great feedback from all of our stakeholders, we also needed to hit the road and visit as many nearby newly-built academic libraries as possible.   We felt that the fastest way to learn about library building projects was to visit other universities that had actually been through the process themselves.   We checked recent building issues of American Libraries and Library Journal to identify recent projects within several hundred miles of us.  We organized a total 5 different trips over the course of about a year, some being repeat visits to the same libraries.  We were fortunate to be able to incorporate different mixes of librarians, faculty, and facilities staff along with our architect. And on one memorable trip, we even got to fly on the UT plane (back when UT had a plane!).

Our travel itineraries were as follows:

July, 2007: Rhodes College and University of Memphis
July, 2007: College of Charleston and Appalachian State University
August, 2007: Georgia State and Georgia Tech
July 2008: Emory University
August, 2008: Return trip to Appalachian State with architect

During each trip, we made every effort to have several group members bring cameras (both still and video) and we all frantically took notes the entire time.  Because our committee consisted of librarians from all departments of the library, we were each able to focus on areas of particular interest to us during each visit.  Having several photographers was also a great idea, as each of us noticed different things about the different buildings, which gave us a very rich set of photos to cull ideas from.  We basically asked our host librarians to give us a complete tour of their libraries, covering everything from office space to loading docks.

Once we returned, we were each assigned the task of making a list of the top 10 things we liked about each library we visited.  It forced us to really think hard about each experience and condense our impressions into a relatively small list of high priority, high impact features we thought we absolutely HAD to have in a new building.  We discovered to our pleasant surprise that we often fell in love with the same features in the buildings we visited.  These lists became invaluable tools for insuring that each of those highly desirable features would be included in our new building when the time came.

We also created a special Flickr account for our library building project and used that as a central repository of all of our various photos from the road trips. To date, there are over 1,800 photographs on the Lupton Library flickr account! The photos are arranged in sets by site visit.

A number of design features showed up again and again as important.

These were:
Good lighting, both artificial and natural.
Study spaces, both for quiet and group study
Comfortable seating
Flexible furnishings and spaces
Good use of color
Good use of signage
Good traffic flow

As a visual way to share our experiences with you, we put together a short movie that shows off some of the beautiful spaces we saw and gives you a glimpse into the fabulous features we fell in love with at the various libraries we visited.

Read All About It

Thanks for taking the time to listen to us share our experiences. As we noted earlier, everything we talked about today is available on our Library Building Wiki at the address below. If you ever need to contact us, our individual information is also below. Thanks!

Theresa Liedtka
Dean of the Lupton Library
University of TN, Chattanooga

Valarie Adams
Cataloging/Authorities Coordinator
University of TN, Chattanooga

Virginia Cairns
Head, Ref and Instr Svcs
University of TN, Chattanooga


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