What I mean is, there are times when students walk into the library with nothing in their hands but ideas in their heads, with a need to share those ideas (and get inspired by new ones) with colleagues. The physical environment they need for idea sharing is one that we've provided in the library: furniture near whiteboards.
They can sit on couches, chairs, or at tables, and either use the whiteboards we've provided that can be moved around, or settle in spaces where you can write on the walls. Sometimes (many times) they bring laptops in with them, sometimes they bring books and notes with them. They work in groups, or they work alone.
The hard part is that we in the library don't know which kind of work a student is engaging in at any given time--that's why it is terribly important to build flexible spaces, that allow for patrons to have real choices about the work they need to do.
It is in thinking about the ephemera of academic work that I was confronted by a design flaw in our new T1 Vision tables, in our north entrance study spaces. These tables (shows upper left) have a touch-screen embedded in the table that can be divided into four, as well as a large sharing screen on the adjacent partition. The large screen for sharing is only activated when a device is plugged in (or, in only a few cases in the touch-table applications). So, in this photo, the student has plugged in her laptop, and what is on the laptop is shown large on the screen for her study partners to see. If one of her study partners found something while browsing the web on the touch-table that she wanted to share, that's currently not possible. And that does not fit with the way students work--they need to be able to share and think about things that come up during the session, not just what they have with them when they arrive at the library. The T1 tables dole out sharing capability as if the stuff that is savable/curatable is more worth sharing than the ephemera, and that is not true.
Sometimes, academic work does not produce a material artifact. Sometimes, play does not take place in a score-keeping game, sometimes, play is open-ended, sometimes there are no winners or losers. But thinking is important, creativity is important, and it's crucial for the library to produce and equip spaces that don't just allow our students to write papers and pass exams, but also for them to think, to share ideas, to brainstorm, to bounce ridiculous notions off of each other that may go nowhere.