September 30, 2003

Undergrads Air Opinions on Olin Library Plans

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An undergraduate council shared its views about future renovations for Olin Library with Sarah Thomas, University Librarian, and a group of library staff on Friday. Anne Wedge, a representative from Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott (SBRA), the architectural firm chosen for the design phase, was also present.

Possible future changes to Olin include an underground connection with Uris Library and stairwells in the middle of the stacks to facilitate movement between floors. The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, as well as fire detection systems, are old and need replacement, which is important for safety as well as maintaining the library’s collections.

This summer, senior library administrators met with architects to evaluate the physical condition of the library’s exterior. Renovations on a floor-by-floor basis could begin as soon as one-and-one-half to two years from now, depending on funding.

One of the greatest concerns for students was the visual impact of Olin on surrounding Arts Quad buildings. New proposals considered adding more windows to increase natural light and make the library appear more active from the outside. However, students expressed concern that this would not do enough to resolve the issue of Olin’s exterior appearance.

“I would rather see something that coordinates with the beauty of the Arts Quad,” said Peter Cohl ’04, one of the undergraduates on the council. He added that improving the appearance of Olin’s architectural elements would attract more funding from donors. Student suggestions included peaked turrets or a mirrored exterior that would reflect the Arts Quad and its surrounding vistas.

The topic of differentiated space was discussed extensively. Students expressed discontent that Olin Library does not provide an adequate study atmosphere nor differentiated spaces for quiet, contemplative study as opposed to group work. The stacks were described as gloomy and constrained for space. Students also felt that there were not enough computers in Olin to meet their needs. Current study rooms and carrels are mostly reserved for graduate students, and even these do not include electric plugs or internet connection for laptops.

According to the council, the distribution of certain facilities between Uris and Olin are sometimes inconvenient to students. Scanners, additional computing facilities and the majority of student study space are available at Uris. This often forces students to move back and forth between the two libraries with their research materials.

Although students often mentioned that Mann Library had excellent facilities — lockers, individual and group study rooms, large desks and abundant computers — they felt that Mann library was located too far away to suit their needs. The council suggested that Olin Library, with its centralized location and a view of the Arts Quad, which Cohl described as “unparalleled” could, with some changes, be ideal for student use.

Library staff reminded students that their interests might be at odds with those of faculty members. Students mentioned that they would like to see more computers available for checking e-mail. However, in the past, the staff has received numerous complaints that e-mail occupied computing time that could be used for research work.

Technological improvements were discussed in addition to physical ones, recognizing how technology is a big part of the library experience. Staff spoke of electronic positioning systems that could be used to track and locate books, other staff suggestions included increased distribution of course materials in electronic format and integration of electronic course reserves with course websites.

Additional student suggestions included “power-napping facilities” and reclining “British Airways chairs.” The staff agreed to consider lounge chairs.

The undergraduates were reminded that Olin Library could not possibly meet all their needs. Student groups were urged to encourage greater availability of open classrooms and improved individual and social areas at the Straight.

A flipchart on which students can write suggestions is located by the library entrance for this purpose. The staff expressed eagerness to receive more student input on Olin’s future.

Archived article by Chinyelum Morah