The new Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons is the university’s biggest investment in academics
Illustrations by Stephanie Dalton Cowan
With its opening this fall the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, Seattle University's largest investment in academics, creates a bold new mecca for today's students.
As the Chapel of St. Ignatius is often regarded as the spiritual center of campus, the library and learning commons likely will serve as the intellectual center.
The much-anticipated and reimagined library is expected to become the campus hub for students, faculty and academic activities. The new six-story presence transforms not only the original A.A. Lemieux Library, built in 1966, but also student learning for the 21st century.
At a cost of $55 million, the renovation and new construction increases the square footage by 50 percent to more than 125,000 square feet. But size is just a slim chapter in this library book.
Momentum and excitement about the project increased over the past decade when it became obvious a 1960s library designed primarily to be a warehouse for books could no longer address changes in teaching and learning styles and expectations of technologically savvy students and faculty. And for a university with a vision to be the premier independent university of the Northwest, the need for a new library and collaborative learning space continued to grow.
The learning commons redefines the role of a 21st-century academic library in teaching and learning.
By spring 2008, SU had launched the public phase of its capital fundraising campaign, with facilities--and the library--as a central piece. At the outset of the campaign, Anne Farrell, SU trustee, library campaign committee chair and president emerita of the Seattle Foundation, remarked, "This project will provide students and faculty with a gathering place and new digital tools for learning and sharing ideas with audiences here or anywhere in the world."
Long before its June 2009 groundbreaking, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., described the library as "a centerpiece in the transformation of Seattle University."
How the library and learning commons would best serve students took shape quickly.
"We knew we wanted technology to be a more forceful presence in the services we offered and in the educational experiences of our students," says University Librarian John Popko. "But we didn't want to use technology to show off. We wanted to use it as a means to an educational end."
Steve De Bruhl, SU's senior project manager for the library and learning commons, says his appreciation for this new intellectual center only intensifies with time. "Learning in a social setting outside the classroom is a component this building will facilitate," De Bruhl says. "The environment is conducive to study that's both collaborative and private. It's a space where you know technology is there, but it won't overwhelm the space or the learning experience."
Read on to learn about some of the features that make SU's library and learning commons stand out.
Transforming the old into the new meant rethinking every aspect of how the space might look and feel, and how its staff could support learning and scholarship in both traditional and contemporary ways.
The result, as John Popko describes it, is a dynamic blend of sanctuary and community square.
"We wanted this building to make us a leader in support of the pedagogy that emphasizes group projects, teamwork, peer consultations- the social dimensions of learning that take place outside the classroom," Popko says. "We worked hard to create many varied and flexible spaces on all six floors where such interaction could flourish."
Think of a light-filled space with comfortable furniture, skylights as architectural elements, adaptable workstations and study spaces for all types of needs. The memorable double helix staircase- its railing is a significant design element from an earlier era- remains. Encounters with great art will be a big part of the day-to-day library experience, with 16 spacious art walls and 55 potential art locations.
The new library and learning commons will include a coffeehouse-style café called The Byte.
Jim Hembree, SU senior development officer, says it's an expression of the university's mission to educate students holistically by placing museum-quality paintings, photography and sculpture in public view. The pieces exhibited include a few from the library's legacy collection and a large infusion of new acquisitions including "What Does Compassion Look Like?" a series of 43 artworks commissioned for the Dalai Lama's visit to Seattle in 2008. These works, Hembree notes, exemplify the university's ethic of service and social justice and were acquired for the university with support from Dick and Betty Hedreen.
While up until now the university art collection has focused primarily on two-dimensional pieces, the library grounds and plaza afford exciting opportunities for sculpture, including an outdoor piece by renowned artist Joel Shapiro.
A gift from Connie and Steve Rogel enabled the addition of water features and seating areas, stonework and plantings to create tranquil outdoor gathering and indoor study areas. All this is in keeping with the highest standards for ecologically friendly design with rainwater captured and routed to a rain garden to reduce the volume of water dumped directly into the city's storm drains. Water efficiency is among the factors that contribute to the library's green building certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
What is also different about the new library and learning commons is the inclusion of a coffeehouse-style café called The Byte. Buzz Hofford, food services director at SU for Bon Appétit, says The Byte will serve coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, roasted just down the street at Stumptown's 12th Avenue location, as well as a wide selection of loose-leaf teas, a first on campus. Grab-and-go foods, hot soups, stews and more also will be available.
The Learning Behind the Learning Commons
An active and energetic learning environment calls for new ways to engage those who use this creative space and the staff who provide support services. For students, this translates into several new resources not routinely found in a campus library.
An evolving culture of collaboration is the fuel that drives the engine of change at the heart of the learning commons, says Popko. The mission of the commons is to help students create their best possible academic work in a community that provides the specialized resources to assist them. To achieve this mission, the library now partners with the Writing Center, Math Lab and the Learning Assistance programs, all of which will now be housed there.
"We are creating new collegial partnerships that will positively impact our students' learning. This innovative effort is a recognition of the web of relationships, intentionally developed and continuously enriched," Popko says. The learning commons redefines the scope of what a 21st-century academic library is and does. "We can easily envision that a student will come to the library and learning commons for a workshop on better study habits, have a research consultation with a reference librarian and have an appointment with a writing consultant all in the same visit," Popko says.
The learning commons redefines the role of a 21st-century academic library in teaching and learning.
"It's all there by design, not by accident."
Plugged In To Technology
When you consider all that went into the planning and design of the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, technology always was a dominant feature yet a bit of a wild card. Short of a soothsayer with a high def, multimedia crystal ball, how do you predict years in advance what the tech needs will be?
"We've had a rich technology plan in the works for years, but we intentionally delayed some technology decisions and purchases until late in the process," says Popko. Assisting Popko was a university team with members from the library, facilities and SunGard Higher Education Office of Information Technology. One major consideration was how to address the shift in the ways students learn. As a complement to writing term papers, today's students are interested in creating video documentaries and other content that's easier to share not only with one another but also with a global audience.
Michael DeBlasi, director of learning technology, notes, "The partnership between Seattle University and SunGard Higher Education has resulted in a library with technology that enables students and faculty to create and collaborate with rich media."
Increasingly, students express ideas via pictures and video and the new library technology supports the capture, cataloging and collaboration of the media. This system provides the capability for the library to house a digital, user-created collection for student work.
Everything is high definition and everywhere there is Wi-Fi, even on the outside plaza. There are 80 desktop computers in three computer labs and 120 laptop computers available through instruction and checkout programs.
Encounters with great art will be a big part of the day-to-day library experience, with 16 spacious art walls and 55 potential art locations.
The first-floor Digital Media Lab features a high-def recording studio with 11 multimedia editing stations. For commercial quality recording, the library provides P2 cameras, the latest in video technology. There's a green screen for recording with virtually any background. Six of the editing stations are equipped with Final Cut Pro editing software for professional-quality editing work. The lab also has a screening room with surround sound.
There's video capture and conferencing as well as multiwalled projection technologies and wall-mounted 52-inch monitors in many of the study rooms so students can practice presentations. Students have the ability to do live streaming-- in real time-- to provide global learning opportunities too, in keeping with SU's focus on global engagement.
As changes and enhancements in technology enter the higher-education environment, this facility will be ready. The three-floor addition features easy-to-modify, 18-inch raised concrete tile and steel-framed floors.
When you walk across those floors, you can sense the earliest watchword that fueled discussions of all who planned the new library and learning commons: flexibility. Then, as you observe the spirit and excitement of all the technology-enhanced research and scholarship that's happening here, you realize it's the beginning of a new era for learning.
Check out photos of the library, courtesy of The Spectator.
Did You Know?
The Big Move: Mammoth Undertaking to Transport Collections
Back in 1966, when the library left the Administration Building and headed for new digs at A.A. Lemieux, those who were on campus recall what’s described as the bucket brigade. This involved a bevy of student volunteers snaked between the two buildings, passing boxes of books down the line from one person to another for the move into the new library.
About 245,000 books, 2,000 journal titles and 6,000 media (VHS and DVD) took the library staff roughly 12 weeks to pack between March and May 2009, when the Lemieux Library was vacated for renovations and new construction. In addition, the staff moved 525 special collections.
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