Deliberate design: planning, features, give flow to new library spaces

by Nate Hoekstra

photos by Bernadine Carey-Tucker

When students return to campus in the fall, the library they will come back to will be drastically different than a typical library with stacks of books and a nearly silent atmosphere throughout.

Looking down on the Atrium Floor, features include a connector to the Kirkhof Center, multipurpose rooms, seating areas and study areas.
 

The difference is by design. Grand Valley’s new Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons will serve a variety of needs, and is a space that can do much more than hold books and accommodate quiet study sessions. With a Knowledge Market with expert assistance on class projects, group study areas, food service and dedicated event space, the new library is designed with versatility in mind.

The design process for the library began more than a decade ago, but was initially based on American Library Association design standards, which focused heavily on a ratio of books to space. Standards for academic libraries have drastically changed since 2001 due to the prevalence of online resources, the ubiquity of social media and the need for variable and often team-based spaces for student work. Now, the library has open space that’s designed to encourage cooperative learning and a blend of work environments.

The building even has an engineered noise profile that ranges from the clatter of an Argo Tea location on the main level’s southwest corner to pin-drop quiet reading rooms with individual study spaces on the upper floors in the northeast corner.

“The building has been designed to create a noise profile that runs diagonally through the building,” said James Moyer, associate vice president of Facilities Planning. “Certain spaces have been put in specific places to make the building inviting and useful, while containing louder activities in areas that students will identify as group space.”

The concept behind the new library is to make it an integral part of campus that students want to use, and can move through freely, said Lee Van Orsdel, dean of University Libraries. “We made conscious decisions to try to make the space permeable, and tried to unscript the movement. We wanted to be sure students could manage their own experience.”

Several key design features are important to helping students use the new library as a learning space. One of the first spaces students will see on the main floor is called the Learning Alcove, which will feature an interactive video screen that will play different multimedia content, like interesting videos from YouTube, lectures and TED x talks.

“We designed the Learning Alcove as a place where students can walk by and see something interesting, and engage with the content,” Van Orsdel said. “It’s part of integrating the experience — we want the building to help facilitate learning moments.”

The first-floor Learning Alcove is part of a larger group- and noise-friendly area near the food service space and the entrances. That space will also hold a major feature called the Hines Corporation Knowledge Marketplace, a creative workplace where students can get help writing, speaking, searching and sharing with there are fewer barriers, and brighter colors were used, Moyer said. In quiet spaces, seats face away from each other, and more subdued
blue and green tones were used.

The layout on floors two through four are similar, each with space for library staff, meeting rooms for collaboration with faculty, shelf browsing space, group study areas, and individual reading areas. Similarities in the floor plans will help students easily find where they want to go, Moyer said.

Technology also plays an important part in the design of the library. Electrical outlets are spaced closer together than in other buildings, giving students the power they need to run
laptop computers, tablets and smartphones. Each floor also has a smart print and copy center. Print jobs sent over the wireless Internet network will be held at the printer until a student releases the print job at the printer. This means students don’t need to click print and race to the printer to be sure no one accidentally takes the first or last page of a print job. Students will be able to claim each individual job in person at the printer.

A student finds a quiet place to read among the stacks.

Perhaps the largest innovation in the building is the ASRS, or the automated storage and retrieval system, which holds thousands of books. The system is robotic and uses a machine to retrieve books, microfilm, and other library resources from a behind-the-scenes storage space that holds much more material in a smaller area than standard shelves. Moyer
estimated the ASRS saves about 40,000 square feet over a standard book-on-shelf layout for the material it holds. Van Orsdel said materials can be found through the online database, and a simple request prompts the robot to move through the shelves to an appropriate bin and deliver it to the circulation desk, where the requested materials are removed and delivered.

The ASRS holds about 180,000 pieces of material, but room for expansion is built in. The ASRS has a total capacity of about 600,000 items, Moyer said. The system will hold less frequently used items, and can retrieve any requested material in a matter of seconds. “It won’t be a question of how fast the system can get the materials, it will be a matter of how long it takes you to walk to the circulation desk,” Moyer said.

The building also has a large glassed-in atrium, called the Keeler Grand Atrium, with presentation spaces, locations for events, and the unique glass-walled DeWitt Exhibition Space where university departments can display work being done by their students or faculty members. It will also be home to an information technology help desk, as well as an emerging technology room where students can get hands-on with the latest tech tools. The open space and amount of natural light contributes to the open floor plan, Moyer said. The atrium level also has two library learning labs, where library staff can teach students how to best use the many resources the facility has to offer. “We want to be sure the students are comfortable using all of the amazing tools we’re putting at their disposal,” Van Orsdel said.

The design work was done by SHW, and the project was built by construction manager Pioneer Construction. Pioneer also led efforts to build the L. William Seidman Center; the company has been involved in many buildings on Grand Valley’s campuses. Library construction began in April 2011 and was completed in time for its opening in June.

“We were deliberate in the design and looked at the needs of our students, faculty, and staff now and into the future when we thought about the kind of spaces that we would need to build,” Moyer said. “I think we’ve made a very functional, very useful space that our community will be able to use and enjoy for many decades to come.” Van Orsdel said the new library will serve as a space where Grand Valley students will learn in an inviting, comfortable setting, and will also be a space where they can come together to collaborate and share ideas.

“I think the new library will help honor the process of learning,” she said. “And if students use this space as we’re hoping and thinking they will, it will be a treasure for this campus for decades to come.”

Page last modified August 26, 2013