Magazine article University Business

Beyond the Reading Room

Magazine article University Business

Beyond the Reading Room

Article excerpt

Libraries are now charged with meeting the need for high-end tech, increased collaboration and assistance with digital resources. Is change at your library overdue?

While most libraries have cleared out hundreds, if not thousands, of books from their shelves, that doesn't mean they have surrendered square footage.

In fact, many colleges and universities are investing millions of dollars to repurpose or even expand these facilities to make room for collaborative learning, technology centers, dining areas, research support and other academic services. The goal: Transform the contemporary library from "book warehouse" to the cultural and academic hub of campus.

For instance, the new $117 million, 224,000-square-foot Guerrieri Academic Commons at Salisbury University in Maryland has become the institution's largest academic structure, deliberately located in the center of all the school's main academic buildings. The university's dean of libraries, Beatriz Hardy, says the four-story building represents a "celebration of learning."

The first floor is dedicated to research, technology and IT support; the second floor, collaboration; the third, traditional book stacks and reading rooms; and the fourth features an exhibit lab and assembly hall. The building also houses a two-story "cyber cafe," with 24-hour study and dining space.

Meanwhile, the University of Notre Dame is spending millions to renovate 414,000 square feet of its 14-story Hesburgh Library, with the goal of making the space an inviting destination for intellectual work. Phase I, which will cost an estimated $7 million, aims to bring more light and openness to the first two floors, while one-third of the library's books have been moved to an off-site location.

Giving up the library's prime real estate on campus was never a serious consideration, university librarian Diane Parr Walker says. "The library probably serves a greater number and diversity of constituents than just about any other group on campus. I think it's fair to say the academic library is still the academic core of the institution."

Designing for flexibility

Increasing reliance on digital resources is an obvious factor causing libraries to evolve. But changes in pedagogy are just as much--if not more--of a factor. The emphasis on active, student-centered learning has compelled libraries to create more adaptable spaces for students to work, both independently and in groups of all sizes.

Grand Valley State University in Michigan made room for these spaces by moving 600,000 of its print works into an automated storage and retrieval system. With these volumes stored beneath the library, 90 percent of the book footprint could be eliminated.

At first, the building was divided into what library dean Lee VanOrsdel calls a "contemplative side" and a "collaborative side," but it was quickly determined that this didn't work.

"Students' and researchers' behaviors change throughout the day, week and semester," VanOrsdel says. "There is no way to build a building or populate it with furniture to meet all those needs."

To plan for what she calls "extreme flexibility," Grand Valley State acquired 29 different types of seating through Steelcase Education that can be moved easily around the library so students can work alone or in groups. "Students have taken ownership of the building," Van Orsdel says. "They're here all hours of the day moving whiteboards and chairs on the elevator, and we don't stop them."

This flexibility also applies to computer labs, where students expect a variety of options beyond row after row of desktop terminals. The University of Southern Maine offers high-top tables where students can use laptops, and smaller stations with two or three computers where groups can work together. "We're not adding or eliminating computers, but using them differently," says librarian David Nutty. …

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