The Library Formerly Known As Penrose

I went to college locally. And since I was in the area today, I decided to stop by the campus to see how much had changed since I’d been there regularly. More specifically, I wanted to see what had been done with the newly-renovated library.

Holy cow.

They’ve transformed the ugly old 1970s building into an “academic commons,” complete with coffee shop, study rooms, computer labs, and oh yeah, books. The area is bright, open, and new in a way I could only imagine from my time there.

In fact, I actually had a hard time remembering where things used to be, they changed everything so much. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be a new reading area, or small study room, or mixed media audio/visual display. You could reserve rooms via a computerized door panel. There was even a touch screen map by the front door! Which had been moved, by the way (the front door).

It was an odd experience. In fact, it took me a long time to find the books. Whereas they used to be spread out between the upper and lower floors (with a fairly groovy red/orange/yellow/white color scheme in the main stairwell), all the books were now in a series of high-density moveable stacks, which I could only imagine would make for some interesting hazing opportunities.

And the names! Names were everywhere. It seemed like everywhere I turned I ran into the So-and-So Help Desk, or the Whatserface Memorial Quiet Study area (disclaimer: not actual names). I understand the fundraising opportunities that naming places after donors gives universities, but this was either more blatant than before, or I just noticed it more after being out of the

In grad school, I kept on hearing about how libraries are having to change for the modern era. I guess it never really sank in for me, though, as this shift has been fairly gradual at the public libraries I frequent. But my old college library, which recently finished what I’m sure was a multi-million-dollar renovation project, was wildly different. Books were no longer the focus. No, perhaps that’s a bit disingenuous. Books were no longer the only focus. The focus was still on learning, of course, but the vision of what learning should be for the 21st century is much more collaborative and multidisciplinary. And that was definitely reflected in the new library academic commons.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that they made a pretty good attempt to bring the external facade of the old library building more in line with the brick-and-copper (did I mention it’s a private university?) of the rest of the campus.