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The Information Commons at Taipei American School

By Kristen Lowman
The Information Commons at Taipei American School

A TAS student does a little digital browsing on the fly (photo: TAS).
Last spring, the upper school library at Taipei American School (TAS) underwent a transformation that reflects the school’s commitment to ensuring student access to cutting-edge information resources in a physical environment most conducive to effective learning, collaboration, and exploration.
The result is the new Joanna Nichols Information Commons. The updated layout provides greater quiet study space for students, allows for a significant infusion of additional digital resources to the physical space and the online environment, and preserves access to traditional media and resources.
Features include interactive digital displays, individual study areas and group work stations wired for full digital access, digital devices available for accessing periodicals, and book shelving shifted to the perimeter of the larger, main room that allow for a more open, yet more quiet, main study area.
Upper School Principal Richard Hartzell, Information Technology Director David Sinclair, and Upper School Librarian Candace Aiani developed the vision for the Information Commons that provides the most advantageous resources and opportunities for TAS students.
After a long process of considering student needs and investigating model institutions, the team developed a plan that focused on three primary student benefits: expanded space for quiet study, opportunity for learning in an ever more electronic research environment, and, most importantly, extensive access to consolidated and integrated information resources.
This update is not in fact a sudden change, but rather the continuation of an evolution that has been underway for at least six years. The library has been providing students with expanding access to a growing range of digital databases for many years, with hundreds of thousands of eBooks already available on resources such as Questia and further collections available on Overdrive and Destiny.
Mr. Sinclair’s IT department oversaw the installation of major features and hardware updates that allow for extensive multimedia exploration. Beyond the expansion of digital access through the addition of new databases, the Information Commons houses engaging interactive technology and cutting-edge practical utilities, such as wireless iPad charging.
Four columns within the central space have workstations connected to an iPad or Apple TV, and have the ability to connect to laptops. This provides a space that allows students to work collaboratively, integrating different media, with a venue for group projects and presentations.
Upon entering the Information Commons, students find a large four-screen digital wall of interactive world news, consisting of a digital world atlas underlying pop-up news headlines that can be opened and expanded. Nearby, they can use another interactive display that encourages discovery of new authors and titles, highlighted through an interactive touchscreen that displays book covers in a cascading, Tetris-like fashion.
The book-shapes cycle down the screen, and at any point a person may pause the sequence by tapping on a book cover to open a window with information on the selected book. Striking digital Event Calendar screens are also installed to increase student awareness of TAS announcements, news, schedules, and events. Students can also engage with Text-to-Screen Trivia involving academics, current events, campus history, and aspects of school life that encourages community involvement and spirit.
On average, more than 1,200 students a day pass through the Information Commons. The opportunities for cutting edge learning and experiences at TAS have boomed in recent years, through continual efforts to maintain relevance and currency in our curriculum, initiatives, activities, and through the vision and generosity from donors to the Friends of TAS.
The transformation of the upper school library is one more advance that provides our students with the best, most state-of-the-art, educational opportunities available in order to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities that await them.

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05/23/2014 - Jan Lowman
This is definitely an accomplishment that I can appreciate after being a librarian for a year.