A New Era in Library Education
$1.3 million remodel turned UIdaho’s Library’s first floor into a modern, flexible, collaborative learning space
Libraries are storehouses of knowledge, filled with books that “permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors,” writes the late astronomer Carl Sagan.
But that time travel doesn’t mean libraries should become time capsules — dusty spaces filled with outmoded media and silent reflection. At the University of Idaho, a $1.3 million remodel turned the UI Library’s first floor into a modern, collaborative, interdisciplinary learning space with the flexibility to evolve and meet the needs of UI students, present and future.
The goal is to help mold learners into leaders, said Lynn Baird, dean of the UI Libraries.
“Information is powerful, and being a librarian is an opportunity to enable people to change their lives,” she said. “Libraries provide opportunities for people to be successful.”
Baird knows that modern students thrive in collaborative, technology-driven spaces that offer many of the comforts of home, not the traditional library cliché of silent spaces where individual students study alone. This collaboration is central to the library's plan for the first-floor remodeling project, addressing an ongoing need for modernization.
“Our library did not have the physical space or technological advancements needed for high-level, collaborative study,” said David Levine, a 1976 UI graduate and donor to the project. “My wife Julie and I felt it was important to support the library’s growth, as we both used it as a study center when we were students.”
The remodel effort was funded by public and private support. University President Chuck Staben spurred giving efforts to meet this threshold by offering a $200,000 university match, said Jim Zuba, UI’s director of development. Donors like the Levines and Carolyn and Gary Strong responded, well aware of how important an upgraded library is to a thriving university.
“We believe it is a vital hub for learning,” said Gary Strong ’66.
The first-floor remodel came down to removing barriers — the first being a barrier to entry for new students. According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, 54 percent of prospective college students nationwide consider a university's library as a key part of their decision-making process. Nearly a third of those students said they had rejected a college completely because it lacked a top-flight library facility.
The remodel effort — which began in the summer 2015 and was completed in spring 2016, with final furniture shipments arriving over the summer — was designed to be attractive to current and prospective students.
The redesign introduces lots of new offerings for students, including a place to buy study snacks and new seating in the “Fishbowl” — the glass-enclosed space that looks out into the heart of campus.
Then the open floor plan leads students toward collaborative learning spaces and living-room-style furniture, as well as places for quiet study in the computer lab and reading rooms.
“There’s a flow to it, from loud to quiet,” Baird said.
A tech upgrade was also a huge part of the remodel: Learning rooms have green screens, webcams, podcasting and vodcasting equipment, touchscreen displays and 3-D printers. The first-floor is also now totally mobile: Tables and chairs have wheels, and large whiteboards roll around to create distinct spaces for workgroups. Books and tech resides on carts staff can easily move to accommodate students and instructors.
“It’s an agile environment,” Baird said.
Richard Stoddart, head of User and Research Services at the library, loves how the first-floor remodel brings learning even more to the forefront for students. The reading rooms, study spaces and furniture create a more open, inviting feel. Even the carpet pattern has proven to be a hit. And the more open design of the floor admits more natural light to an area that used to be more like a cave.
“It’s like night and day,” Stoddart said.
Students have also given rave reviews.
“I love the furniture,” said Micaela Johnson, a 20-year-old from Meridian who is studying exercise science and health and dance in UI’s College of Education. “And the natural light.”
Yet the upgrades represent more than mere window dressing, said Baird:
“It represents a new era in library education.”
Article by Steven Tarlow, University Communications & Marketing