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Inside Look: Libraries

While still a place where one can study, today’s campus libraries are active spaces that offer so much more
University Business, November 2013
  • The Learning Commons: Serving as a front door, the learning commons area was central to the design of the Atlanta University Center’s Robert W. Woodruff Library renovation. It spans from the main entrance to the grand central staircase and its sweeping red wall—providing primary library services as well as space for learning, working, and collaborating.
  • Folding glass doors rise during normal operating hours of Atlanta U Center’s Woodruff Library, acting as a canopy over the marble stairs of a stadium seating area within the learning commons. There, poetry readings and other small events are held. After hours, the doors allow a portion of the learning commons to be secured.  CREDIT: Anton Grassl and Kathryn Nania/Shepley Bulfinch
  • A striking red wall adds color and character to the Woodruff library at Atlanta U Center. CREDIT: Anton Grassl and Kathryn Nania/Shepley Bulfinch
  • Even libraries that aren’t initially designed to include a learning commons can be reworked to have one. Such was the case at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Originally constructed in 1961 and expanded and renovated in 1999, Schaffer Library has 2,500 square feet on the first floor that were redesigned in 2013 to create a learning commons. The idea behind the $145,000 project: Craft a flexible, engaging space that supports the creation, synthesis of, and reflection on all forms of scholarship. Design: Hu
  • Cozy lounges: This space in the Charles H. Trout Library at Harcum College in Pennsylvania, which underwent a $1.2 million renovation in 2013, offers several seating choices. The whimsical “spun chair” serves as confirmation that the campus library has become a place to unwind. Because Harcum has no student center, updates to the library were seen as critical to improving the academic and social experience. Concept:  Heidi Techner of Harcum’s Interior Design program; Space planning/construction documents: M
  • Lightweight furniture at Harcum College’s Trout Library can be moved into spaces between the stacks or to other quiet spots when students are in need of study and reflection. CREDIT: Photo by Andrew Wickel, courtesy of Harcum College
  • The common areas of Harcum’s library have a variety of furniture types. Sectionals can be pulled apart and reconfigured for collaborative learning, small study groups, or individual study or lounging. CREDIT: Photo by Andrew Wickel, courtesy of Harcum College
  • Energy-efficient, tech-ready: The entire common space in the $13 million Munday Library at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas is a raised floor. That allows for highly energy-efficient delivery of heating and cooling. Furniture and outlets can easily be moved to accommodate different activities. The facility, completed in August 2013, also contains quiet spaces for individuals or groups and a digital classroom. It was designed to deliver on St. Edward’s principle of work through collaboration. Design:
  • St. Edwards University’s Munday Library also has bright study/lounge spaces that overlook the campus. Design: Brian Irwin of Sasaki Architects (Boston) CREDIT: Briley Noel Dockery
  • High visibility: The $25 million Hans W. Klohn Commons at University of New Brunswick in Canada’s Saint John campus, completed in 2011 is the place to see and be seen. It features a variety of seating configurations, with round tables, high tables, group study rooms, couches, and comfortable chairs. The Commons also contains key academic support services, library services, the writing center, and the math and science tutoring center. A collaborative classroom has seven pods, each equipped with a podium, lar
  • Day lighting: An abundance of windows takes advantage of the sunlight on short Canadian winter days at the Commons building on University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus. Other green features of the building include a rainwater collection system that allows for the water to be reused in restrooms and a power-generating elevator. The windows also allow library users to look out upon the campus scenery. Design: B+H Architects (Toronto, Canada) CREDIT: Greg Richardson Photography
  • The $103.8 million renovation and expansion to San Francisco’s original J. Paul Leonard Library utilized a design-build delivery method, which saved money as changes were made and the schedule experienced delays. The aim with the project was to create an environment that promotes study, research, and scholarly interaction. The new building has been open since March 2012. Design: HMC Architects (San Francisco), Construction manager: Balfour Beatty Construction (Dallas) CREDI
  • San Francisco State’s library café and informal group seating options were deliberately placed in the main entryway, to create an immediate high level of activity for those entering the facility. CREDIT: David Wakely
  • Within the study space at San Francisco State’s library, furnishings are flexible. Movable white boards serve as visual aids for groups studying as well as privacy screens between each work area. CREDIT: David Wakely
  • Can’t-miss cafes: All work and no coffee is no way to run a 21st century academic library. Included in virtually all new and newly renovated libraries, the café typically sits at the entrance to the building. The $21 million Emerson Library at Webster University in St. Louis, opened in 2003, has its Cyber Café, open 24 hours for students, right off the main entrance. The overstuffed chairs and table on a staircase landing just outside the café is an example of how every nook of the building gets use. Design
  • [P- Webster U periodicals section nooks] Study and reading nooks: Every space at Webster University in St. Louis’ Emerson Library is categorized and used to its maximum efficiency. With walls and book stacks dividing spaces, the library contains virtually no hallways. This cozy study area placed within the periodicals section is reflective of how every nook and cranny in the building has a use.  CREDIT: Inocencio Boc
  • Memorable stairways: Webster University’s Emerson Library design features a spiral staircase connecting the second through fourth floors. Artwork is displayed on the staircase’s outside edges. CREDIT: Inocencio Boc
  • Reading room, reconfigured: The Williston Library at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, built in 1905 to resemble Westminster Hall in London, was in need of space improvements in its Library, Information, and Technology Services Reading Room. Based on student feedback, administrators decided to redecorate the space with increased soft seating, standing tables, and new areas for quiet work. New furniture and plants for the space cost just $2,500 and provide a more welcoming feel to a room with a soaring
  • Space savers: The need for more collaboration areas in campus libraries presents a problem: Where to put all the books? Some institutions are solving the problem through robotic book retrieval systems and compact shelving. Built in 2009 for $105 million, the Henry Madden Library at California State University, Fresno has more than 365,000 square feet of space for study, collections, computing, and services. And thanks to housing the largest collection of public access compact shelving in the nation, the ent
  • Custom furnishings: A study area at Cal State, Fresno is furnished with tables in rift cut oak with Eustis Westlake chairs in a custom Native American basket pattern, from Knoll.  CREDIT: Cary Edmondson
  • Interactive technology: The $2 million Hoover Library renovation at McDaniel College in Maryland was completed this November and boasts a number of high-tech areas, including the Wahrhaftig Room. The meeting room features the latest video-conferencing technology. Other collaborative learning spaces include the information commons, which has a service desk staffed by both a librarian and technology support person; a research lounge where students can visit library staff in their offices; and the Literacy Int
  • Although a 1970s-era facility, Illinois State University’s Milner Library has technology updates such as interactive tables, each with an Epson projector and interactive pen that enables group work around a tabletop-sized projection of a computer screen. Work done at the table can be saved as a JPEG image. Media manipulation rooms can be used for podcasting. Design: Murphy, Downey, Wofford, and Richman (St. Louis) CREDIT: David Stern, associate dean, public services
  • Also at Illinois State’s Milner Library are “collaboration stations,” which allow everyone in a group to plug in a laptop or mobile device and then take turns displaying the device’s screen on the large monitor. CREDIT: David Stern, associate dean, public services
  • Community partner: Perhaps the best example of collaboration in a library is when the facility was built as a campus and greater community partnership. Such was the case at Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The Tidewater Community College/City of Virginia Beach Joint-Use Library was a $43 million project with 83 percent of the funds from TCC and 17 percent from the city. Open since August 2013, the library is an inviting place, with curved shelves representative of beach waves, a vari
  • The entryway to the 6,000 square-foot children's room at the Joint-Use Library on TCC's Virginia Beach campus is interactive, twinkling as someone new passes through. The room features interactive learning centers embedded with organic Virginia Beach materials, including sand, shells, and leaves. The room is a resource not only for parents, many of whom are also TCC students, but also for students in TCC’s Early Childhood Education program.
  • Preserved, yet forward thinking: Originally built in 1878 and expanded in 1927, Linderman Library at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania reopened in 2007 after an extensive $13.1 million preservation and restoration project. The American Victorian style building, which primarily serves the humanities and arts programs, preserves the institution’s legacy while providing users with the most advanced teledata and A/V systems on campus. The project reintegrated the 1928 lobby with the 1878 rotunda and the very lo

Heading to the campus library used to mean needing serious study silence or a spot for solitary scholarly pursuits. Although the library’s shell may look the same, inside it’s a decidedly different and livelier place.

“The hush-hush is over. Instead you get noise, you get dialogue, you get engagement, you get creativity, you get sharing,” says Jim Draper, vice president and general manager at Gale, the division of Cengage Learning that provides digital and print products to libraries.

“I visit libraries all the time, and the spaces are being reconfigured to allow for collaboration. And all the interactivity that happens now, that never really happened before.”

He compares the modern academic library to a cathedral, with people circulating around and meeting each other. Large, open areas are known in many libraries as knowledge commons. “Even the name reflects so clearly what they want to do,” Draper says.

Collaboration spaces “tend to look less like board rooms and more like small restaurants, with chairs and tables that can be moved around easily,” he adds.

Reference areas have evolved, too. Rather than rows of single computers, these are often spaces where a discussion is taking place about materials pulled up on a large screen. Having materials available digitally means there’s much more space for collaboration. The Gale digital archives, for example, would occupy 320,000 linear feet if housed in their physical form.

A few progressive libraries don’t even contain any books.

Thanks to digital assets, officials are adding not just more areas for work but also for chat. In a lot of cases, they can work with the existing library footprint and add a café. Often, the café is located near the front of the building, and one is more likely to see lots of big tables that are suitable for spreading out work on.

There’s also likely to be a mix of hard and soft chairs, rather than a space crammed with as much seating as possible, he says.

Still, some traditional academic library pieces remain. “Every one has some kind of archive facility, a rare book room or special collections room,” Draper says. And in a handful of libraries, the massive old card catalog is even “preserved inside the library, as some sort of relic.”

Signage that helps users get where they need to go is still prevalent, but it may well be in interactive, digital form. Today’s libraries are, overall, designed to be friendly places that draw in the campus community. The idea, says Draper, is “to make sure their collections get used, and used well.”

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