Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL
Geoffrey Freeman is a partner in the Boston-based architectural firm Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott (SBRA). "Our main challenge at Illinois Wesleyan," he says, "was to design a library that is more than a 30-year building; one that will last for generations.
"It used to be assumed that all libraries would be outdated in 20 years, because of the growth projections for library collections," Freeman explains. "Essentially, print collections grew at the expense of space for people in the building." Libraries, he says, eventually needed to be expanded because schools tended to be judged by the size of their print collections. And when older libraries could not be adapted to new technologies, they had to be replaced. Ironically, Freeman notes, the prediction that libraries would one day disappear, with remote access to electronic materials making books--and the libraries that held them--obsolete, hasn't come to fruition.
"Today, it's just the opposite," he says. "Libraries are more heavily utilized than ever." So, what has changed? Freeman contends that the confluence of content and technology that has transformed academic libraries. "Students go to the reference desk and ask IT questions; for them, it's natural to assume that content and technology are interconnected. And we're seeing a combining of technology with traditional learning styles; that's where learning is going, and that's where libraries are going."
The confluence of multiple new media formats and online access have helped to turn academic libraries into focal points for campus research and learning. And, says Freeman, "Younger institutions today are not necessarily measured by the size of their collections; the collection isn't the key any more, it's the activity that takes place within the library that's most important." For one thing, remote storage with electronic access has allowed academic libraries to limit holdings to the core collection that supports a university's research and its faculty. And on a practical level, "It's simply no longer feasible to build new every 25 to 30 years. So the challenge is to design a building that's not tied to current technology, but is flexible and will grow with the technology. Further, the building has to make technology as invisible as possible," says Freeman.
A Little History
IWU has a long history of building libraries. Though initially the school's library was shuffled back and forth between several buildings from 1857 to the early '20s, it settled into its first freestanding home, the Buck Memorial Library, in 1923. By the early '60s, however, Buck could no longer sustain the university's swelling enrollment, and an expansion-feasibility study found that the building could not be adapted to contemporary library use. A new, $1.3 million building--the Sheean library--was completed in 1968, built in what was then considered a state-of-the-art style: massive panels of poured concrete. But 30 years later, it, too, had outlived its usefulness: The first computers had been installed in 1984, but soon, wiring to accommodate 45 computers forced the sacrifice of seating and bookshelves. And by the 1990s, the library's collection had grown to 250,000 volumes--in a building designed for 140,000. Once again, a team studied expansion, and found no realistic options except to build a new facility.
The vision for the new library is reflected in its mission statement, which begins, "The library is a learning environment that responds to the traditional values of the liberal arts university and to the technological advances of the modern age ... It provides connections to global information networks which enhance the curriculum and assist research."
As Freeman says, "Institutions are seeing the library as …