Plant Pathology Library 2.0

With the help of donors, the department renovated the Plant Pathology Library and transformed it into a collaborative learning space that continues the rich tradition of support for plant pathology education, research and outreach.

If you walked through the Plant Pathology Library in the mid-1980s you would have seen students and researchers gathered amongst shelves of books, professional journals and research papers. If you walk into that same room today, you will see a transformed space; a showplace of what modern libraries have become in the digital era.

The Plant Pathology Library dates back to 1985, when Borlaug Hall was built on the St. Paul campus. The 1,720 square foot upgrade from the original library area in Stakman Hall emerged as a partnership between University of Minnesota Libraries and the Department of Plant Pathology. Over the years, continued support from the generosity of donors helped the library remain a pivotal component to the student learning experience and plant pathology research, and also supported the maintenance and staffing of the library. Over time, the space began to be used less frequently and was in need of renovations that would meet the modern needs of students, faculty and staff.

The Plant Pathology Borlaug CommonsWith the dawn of the digital era, the student learning experience and educational and research landscapes have shifted away from physical textbooks and journals, with an increasing move to digital content, and with students and scientists immersed in a culture with unlimited access to educational resources and information. At the University of Minnesota, libraries are changing and adapting to this new reality. Consistent with the idea of libraries' evolving roles in supporting modern education, Walter Library, the flagship location of University of Minnesota Libraries, underwent major renovations and today features the Digital Technology Center, the Learning Resources Center, Digital Media Center and the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute.

Changes in the way students and scientists access books and journals have also had an impact on the Plant Pathology Library. User statistics showed that less than 10% of the Plant Pathology Library’s collection had ever circulated, despite the space remaining an important place for student study and engagement.

“As the educational needs of students and faculty shift, the way the library meets those needs must shift as well. Becoming spaces for engagement and creators of content is one of the ways libraries are changing to meet patrons' evolving needs,” says Plant Sciences Librarian Kristen Cooper.

The Borlaug Commons Living RoomSeeing this trend, the Department of Plant Pathology engaged in an ambitious effort to reimagine an updated Plant Pathology Library, and to align its mission with the contemporary needs of students and scientists. During the planning process the department received significant input from University of Minnesota librarians and from nearly 200 students. Students wanted a modern, eclectic decor and a space that accommodates individual study, group collaborations, quiet study and stress-reducing relaxation, with natural lighting and many electrical outlets. At the same time, the department sought an event space for departmental functions and scientific outreach programming that would enhance awareness of and appreciation for the field of plant pathology. It was with this idea in mind, to create a space that would facilitate traditional, individualized study and modern collaborative thought, that a plan and a new design emerged.

While the design phase was challenging, securing funding to turn the idea into reality was a real hurdle. With the support of the CFANS Student Fees Committee, Land O’Lakes, Inc. and contributors to the Plant Pathology Library Fund, the new vision began to take shape. In December the three-room suite that comprised the original library was named the Land O’Lakes, Inc. Collaboration Center in recognition of their financial support. The large open room that formed the main public space of the library was designated as Borlaug Commons, honoring Norman Borlaug and ensuring that the historic importance of the space to plant pathology, student learning and scientific engagement is honored for generations to come. Plans for inclusion of a permanent exhibit about Norman Borlaug in the Borlaug Commons are currently underway.

Plant Pathology Borlaug Commons Quiet Study AreaThe books and journals that previously resided in the Plant Pathology Library were not forgotten or tossed aside. Most of them are available online and the University of Minnesota Libraries has created a plant pathology-specific landing page. The physical collection was relocated elsewhere within the libraries. Most materials were moved to Magrath Library, the main library on the St. Paul campus. Located a short walk from the Borlaug Commons, Magrath Library ensures that readers can still access hard copies as needed.

The new space has been a transformational success. Any day of the week you are likely to see 30 or more students in the space, working together, studying alone or just relaxing. The department and the college have also made extensive use of the space for special events and outreach. For example, the space hosted a welcome reception this summer as part of the North Central American Phytopathological Society regional conference and a closing ceremony for the 9 Billion & Counting: Abolishing Hunger food security symposium in October. The space has also been used to hold e-learning training exercises and K-12 outreach programs. Updating the Borlaug Commons ensures the continued success and vitality of the Plant Pathology Library for years to come.

“We see this transition of the Land O’Lakes, Inc. Collaboration Center and the Borlaug Commons to be a key step in making sure that we are being good stewards of donor dollars, and we really think of the space as the Plant Pathology Library 2.0,” says Plant Pathology Department Head Jim Bradeen.