by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
LEAVENWORTH — Since its opening as a college for women in 1923, the University of Saint Mary here has worked hard to keep up with the changing times — and the changing needs of its students.
Now, 2019 marks yet another landmark change with the renovation of DePaul Library into the Keleher Learning Commons.
“In the library world, we are always trying to provide resources, access to information and instruction for our student body,” said Danielle Dion, vice president of the KLC and student affairs.
“As the University of Saint Mary has grown,” she continued, “we’ve added graduate programs, we’ve added an Overland Park campus [and] we’ve added online programs.
“And the resources that we had in the library when I arrived in 2014 did not meet the needs of the students.”
“Part of our new strategic plan is to increase multiple senses of belonging for our students, and I think this building will help facilitate that,” she added. “We want students to feel like this is their space and they can come in and have a club event, ask for help, or just hang out and play a board game.
“We want to serve the students holistically.”
This desire to welcome and serve the needs of students is what makes the choice of its namesake — Archbishop James P. Keleher — so appropriate.
“Archbishop Keleher has been a great friend to Catholic education in the area, pretty much his entire career, and he’s been a great friend to the University of Saint Mary,” said John Schultz, vice president of marketing and admissions.
“He has come up here quite a bit, he has visited with our students and you can see the impact he has on the students because they light up when they’re talking to him.
“We just thought this was a natural fit to honor him and his dedication to Catholic education and his dedication to the university,” he added.
Dion said changes began not long after she arrived in 2014.
“Within the first month, I started meeting with different folks across campus on the new capital campaign, which included a renovation of the library,” Dion said.
“We didn’t know what the iteration would be, but we started doing research, visiting other institutions . . . and looking at the trends of where libraries are going.
“They are becoming more student centered and focused on the community of the school, so they become the spot where students come to hang out, but also learn research skills and how to think critically.”
To achieve this goal, the learning commons includes a balance of study areas — including seven study pods called “think tanks” and an active learning center where classes can be conducted — and relaxation areas, including a board game collection, various types of seating and hammocks.
There are also plans for a coffee shop called “Spiro’s Cup,” after the school mascot, Spiro the dragon. All of the furniture also has casters attached for easy redesign for lectures, club meetings, movie nights and more.
“We want students to feel like this is their space, that they can redesign how they use it,” Dion said. “However, we do want to also offer services that support them for student success.”
To accomplish that, the learning commons includes printers, laptops for rent, tutoring services and more.
“Regular library services, library instruction, classes coming in and learning how to find peer-reviewed articles, how to find books for their papers, how to write effectively — all of those still exist,” Dion said.
“We also have an online component where all of those exist digitally. We have also added complete interlibrary loan across the United States.”
Additionally, the KLC includes 40,000 books and 120,000 e-books.
“We actually have more books than we’ve ever had, but they are just in different formats,” Dion said.
“What we have done is just transform the services and the resources that we have now to be able to provide top-quality library resources,” she continued.
“We want our institution’s library to be vibrant and reflect the current curriculum that is being taught.”
Extending student development
Along with the learning commons, the first floor of Miege Hall has been transformed into a student development area and includes career readiness, student engagement, counseling services, campus ministry and Spiro’s Cupboard.
“[Spiro’s Cupboard] is our food pantry,” Dion said. “We stock that so any student who might be needing a snack or is concerned that he or she might not have food for the weekend . . . can take some pasta or some peanut butter and jelly home.
“We have really tried to bring all of the student developmental activities and the individuals who are in charge of those over to this side of campus.”
Magnificent. I’ll be over soon for a tour!