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Student Shadow, Will Sheppard, Summarizes “A Look at Library Spaces”

Will Sheppard attended UNYSLA’s most recent conference as a student shadow. Here is his tale:

I recently attended UNYSLA’s spring conference “A Look at Library Spaces” at the University of Rochester. The changing nature of libraries is something that concerns information professionals of all types and the large, diverse group of attendees hammered home both the importance and universality of the topic.

Mary Ann Mavrinac, Vice Provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of the River Campus Libraries at the University of Rochester got things started with her keynote speech discussing her vision for transforming the iconic Rush Rhees library into a hub for innovation on campus. She noted that with the growth of collaborative spaces in the business world it is becoming critical for academic institutions to prepare students to function in group environments post-graduation, and that libraries have an opportunity to fill this need.

Mary Ann’s proposed master plan for Rush Rhees is an innovative approach – instead of focusing on renovating one area of the building, she approaches it much like cities do when creating redevelopment plans, designating broad usage categories but not specific contents (a ‘technology space’ instead of a computer lab, for example). This approach allows the plan to be implemented sequentially while allowing flexibility down the line, something that is particularly critical as technology and user expectations continue to evolve.

Terry Buford, Director of Irondequoit Public Library, and Pete Wehner from Passero Associates spoke regarding the challenges they faced in designing and constructing the new Irondequoit Public Library. One of the key design challenges they faced was how to create a building that both satisfied patron desires for interactive, collaborative spaces while preserving the rows of books and quiet spaces that other patrons feared losing. They designed the new building to provide spaces for both communities, using the bulk of the building (including sections of the stacks) as a physical buffer between spaces built for louder and quieter purposes.

In spite of all of this talk of dramatic change in the way libraries are physically constructed, Mary Ann’s remarks contained a reassuring note, emphasizing that accommodating user needs for collaborative and innovative spaces is something libraries have been doing for centuries. As Mary Ann said, the Great Library of Alexandria served as a hub of scholarly activity of all types – both the preservation of knowledge and collaboration leading to the creation of new knowledge. Libraries changing to incorporate more innovative and collaborative spaces aren’t abandoning their past – they’re getting back to their roots.

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