Half­way along the road from li­brary to learn­ing com­mons

Sherbrooke Record - - FRONT PAGE - By Gor­don Lam­bie

As the new stu­dents at Bishop’s Uni­ver­sity set­tle into their first full week of classes and start to get to know their sur­round­ings, some of them are no doubt tak­ing the first of many fu­ture trips that standby of aca­demic life: the school li­brary. This year, how­ever, the li­brary is not look­ing the way peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the school might ex­pect.

Iden­ti­fied as the next big pri­or­ity in the school’s on­go­ing bat­tle with crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture, the John Bas­sett Memo­rial Li­brary is in the mid­dle of a mas­sive trans­for­ma­tion that be­gan last year and is ex­pected to con­tinue through next sum­mer. By the time the work is fin­ished, the build­ing will have changed from an of­ten crowded and some­times in­ef­fi­cient li­brary with a ten­dency to show its age into a pol­ished, mod­ern “learn­ing com­mons,” at a cost of roughly $17 mil­lion, if all goes ac­cord­ing to plan. So what is a learn­ing com­mons? Ac­cord­ing to James Crooks, El­iza Mck­night, and Lor­raine Smith, the mem­bers of the project’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­mit­tee, it is es­sen­tially still a li­brary, but one re­or­ga­nized and re-imag­ined with the needs of a 21st cen­tury uni­ver­sity in mind. Al­though the pur­pose of the build­ing will still be to house the school’s 250,000 part col­lec­tion of ed­u­ca­tional re­sources, the space has been de­signed with the in­tent to bring stu­dents to­gether and foster op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn.

“It’s go­ing to look very dif­fer­ent: beau­ti­ful, mod­ern­ized, bright, but it will still be a li­brary,” Smith said. “The de­sign is way more open, and they’re try­ing as much as pos­si­ble to take ad­van­tage of the nat­u­ral light and sur­round­ings of the li­brary,” the li­brar­ian added, not­ing that the new lay­out leaves nearly twice as much space for stu­dents as the old li­brary.

“The ab­stract no­tion feed­ing the de­sign was the tree of knowl­edge,” ex­plained Crooks, the project di­rec­tor. “You have a cen­tral trunk run­ning through the build­ing that branches off into var­i­ous ser­vices and ar­eas of the li­brary. The way they brought that to life was to make a big agora at the back of the build­ing with a big set of steps, very wide, that you could use as a the­atre or a lec­ture space or a study space,” he said, smil­ing as he added, “you can also go up from the first floor to the se­cond floor; it’s beau­ti­ful.”

The plan also in­cludes a café, more seat­ing space and elec­tri­cal out­lets, and a con­cen­tra­tion of stu­dent ser­vices be­hind one uni­fied counter, all com­ing out of what Crooks de­scribed as an “in­te­gra­tive de­sign process” in which a wide range of li­brary users were con­sulted on what should go into the new build­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the project di­rec­tor, the ren­o­va­tion is cur­rently on sched­ule with the fo­cus at the mo­ment be­ing on get­ting as much work done on the ex­te­rior of the build­ing as pos­si­ble be­fore the win­ter. If all con­tin­ues as planned, then the build­ing should be com­plete by the sum­mer of 2018. Con­struc­tion, how­ever, is only one part of mak­ing the new learn­ing com­mons ready for the start of the next school year.

“Or­ga­niz­ing the move of this stuff is like the big­gest project in the his­tory of the uni­ver­sity,” Crooks said. “It’s un­be­liev­able.”

While the meta­mor­pho­sis takes place, the ser­vices and much of the dayto-day col­lec­tion of the li­brary have moved across cam­pus into a tem­po­rary struc­ture on top of the school’s ten­nis courts. Al­though things are run­ning smoothly now, Crooks pointed out that mov­ing a li­brary is not as sim­ple as stuff­ing books in boxes and walk­ing them across cam­pus.

“Some­body has to know what they all are, where they all are, what boxes they are in, what or­der they go in,” he said. “Then you think, well, you did it once, so all you have to do is re­verse the process, but no; the whole build­ing is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Mov­ing back is go­ing to be even more com­pli­cated”

Each of the com­mit­tee mem­bers was ex­tremely ap­pre­cia­tive of the work of Sarah Heath, who co­or­di­nated the move into the cur­rent space, as well as the on­go­ing ef­forts of Daniel Bromby, who will be head­ing up the move back into the new space.

“We’ve mea­sured (the col­lec­tion), and we’ll mea­sure it again one more time, prob­a­bly two more times,” Mck­night said, point­ing out that new shelv­ing in new con­fig­u­ra­tions means hav­ing to be ex­tra cer­tain of just how much space is needed. “Li­brar­i­ans are de­tails peo­ple, we want to get it right.”

Al­though a great deal of work re­mains to be done, it is clear that those closes to the project are al­ready ex­cited about the po­ten­tial of the end re­sult.

Crooks pointed out that with the project on sched­ule right now, the in­com­ing class of 2018 will be able to be­gin the year with a bright, brand new learn­ing space.

“They’ll love it,” he said.

COUR­TESY

An artist's ren­der­ing of what the main stair­case of Bishop's Uni­ver­sity's learn­ing com­mons will look like once com­pleted.

GOR­DON LAM­BIE

Right now the li­brary is care­fully com­pressed into a se­ries of tem­po­rary trail­ers next to the uni­ver­sity's sports com­plex.

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