New college library transforms into home away from home
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- “It was a dungeon.”
That’s how users of the old College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences library described the 1956 facility, housed on the ground floor of the Agricultural Administration Building at The Ohio State University, said Pat Whittington, assistant dean of student development.
“It was that way when we were students here in the late 1970s,” he said, speaking with Linda Martin, associate dean of academic affairs.
“And it hadn’t changed a bit since then,” Martin added.
“As students so kindly labeled it, the old library was ‘retro.’ It just didn’t meet the students’ needs.”
Today, after an eight-month renovation, students are enjoying a brand new space, the college’s Library and Student Success Center.
Martin envisioned such a spot when she returned to Ohio State in late 2007 to lead the college’s academic programs.
“This center was seven years in the making,” she said. The old library was so underwhelming that, for a time, University Libraries considered closing it. But when Carol Diedrichs took the helm as the university’s vice provost and director of libraries in 2010, she met with Martin and other college administrators, and a partnership formed between the college and University Libraries to plan an upgrade.
“We have world-class programs with world-class faculty," Martin said. "The new library is truly reflective of the cutting-edge education we offer."
Students are already flocking to the new space, which opened Feb. 4. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house took place Feb. 20.
“I’m a library-goer,” said Joey Brown, a senior majoring in animal sciences and president of the college’s student council, “and this is how a library should be — bright and wide open.
"The old library was — well, it was a lot less this way.”
Brown is pleased to see students using the space.
“The old library — nobody ever went there," he said. "It was darker, smaller and more confined. A lot of students didn’t even realize there was a second floor there.
“Here, I love this huge window. This is a lot more conducive to how students like to study and gather today. I’m excited about it.”
Most importantly, Martin said, the new facility is accessible and fully compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
“All students need to have access to everything the college has to offer,” Martin said, “and we weren’t able to do that with the old facility.”
Other improvements include:
- Plenty of computer stations and access to technology. “The old library had only a few outlets. We were running extension cords just so students could plug in their laptops,” Martin said. “And access to wireless was spotty at best.” Today’s facility is state of the art, she said.
- Upholstered furniture, a fireplace, and plenty of natural light. “The old library was dark, not inviting, and not intellectually engaging,” Martin said. “Students would go to Panera or Starbucks just to have a comfortable place to study. Now we have that kind of atmosphere right here, which is particularly beneficial because it provides more of an opportunity to interact with faculty outside of the classroom.”
- Five separate collaborative spaces where small groups can gather, students can practice class presentations, and potential employers can screen job candidates. “Before, when an employer came to campus to conduct interviews, we had to ask staff to volunteer to vacate their office for a day,” Martin said. “It was far from ideal.” Brown, the student council president, envisions leaders of student organizations making good use of the collaborative rooms for executive team meetings. “And they’ll be perfect for working on group projects,” he said. In addition, one of the rooms has a video link to the college’s Wooster campus, allowing interaction with faculty and students there, and also has a special Skype connection to connect to students who participate in Study Abroad and other off-campus experiences.
- An outdoor courtyard, soon be completed, where groups can gather even outside of library hours.
Whittington said a side benefit of the new center is that more students are making their way to college administrative offices just a short flight of stairs away.
“It’s increased the traffic,” he said. “Students might think of something while they’re at the library, and it’s easy to come in and ask for assistance — review a resume, or ask about a class. It’s much easier than arranging to make a special trip.”
Coming soon will be a coffee shop and café just outside the doors to the Student Success Center.
“When we talked with students about what they would like to see in this space, I didn’t quite anticipate just how important coffee would be to them,” Martin said. The café, currently under construction, is scheduled to open in April.
The library was designed by Acock Associates Architects, which also planned the 2009 renovation of the Thompson Library on main campus. In planning the facility, nearly 200 students provided input, Martin said, meeting in focus groups as early as 7 a.m. some mornings. That feedback provided much of the direction for the library’s features and design. But the fireplace was something Martin determined early on should be part of the space.
“To me, a fireplace is comfort, it’s warm, it’s home," she said. "And I want our students to consider our college their home.”
The library’s hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, although administrators are starting to discuss how to meet student requests for longer hours, Martin said.
“Someone asked me what my favorite part of the new library is,” Martin said, “and it’s seeing every seat occupied by a student when I walk in there. That’s my absolute favorite part.”