Students and faculty of North Carolina State University (NCSU), Raleigh, are now diving into the first full school year with a new library at their disposal on the school’s Centennial Campus, and the rest of us get to watch as a new model hits its stride. The Hunt Library, which opened its doors in January after much anticipation and had the spring to work out any kinks, articulates the vision of the team at NCSU’s libraries. That team is led by Susan Nutter, vice provost and director of NCSU’s libraries and LJ’s 2005 Librarian of the Year. (We have a saying at LJ, “once a Librarian of the Year, always a Librarian of the Year,” and she keeps living up to it.)
I’ve long been inspired by Nutter. I make it a habit of checking out libraries wherever I go, and I have been in NCSU’s D.H. Hill Library in Raleigh several times over the years when visiting family. There I saw a very early multimedia center to serve faculty and students, meeting rooms recast as collaborative spaces with technology included, and more. The last time I was there, in February 2011, Nutter walked me through the library to show me what they were doing to serve study needs and to point out some new features of that library’s extension, which was under construction.
What I saw has since been a benchmark for me, a living example of a humming learning commons, a student-centered environment used to capacity. A space where whiteboards were instrumental to student teams, nestled near others working collaboratively on computers. A librarian was stationed at the perimeter, near a display of the location of city buses as they approached the campus—helping commuting students time departure, particularly handy on that sleety night. QR codes guided students to resources. Behind the scenes, the library team was busy designing mobile apps to access materials and surface digital content. The students were engaged in a multitude of tasks, packed into a seemingly informal space. But, of course, the space was also highly organized, designed to provide the students with what they needed and then get out of the way.
This strategy has been writ large in the Hunt Library—with a big piece for faculty in the mix, of course. LJ’s Meredith Schwartz takes us on a tour in “Tomorrow, Visualized,” Library by Design). Serving students and faculty in sciences and engineering, the 221,000 square foot LEED Silver-certified building was designed to enable research that can be sped by robust computing to visualize big data, multimedia tools, and labs for creating things like video games. It was built for collaboration, with group study spaces and appropriate technology deployed throughout. It also bakes in ways to share and celebrate what emerges—facilitating the work at hand while being a cool and fun place to be.
This is possible because NCSU is benefitting from investment in its libraries—as are its students and faculty. The Hunt cost $115.2 million, and a full $93.75 million of that was funded by the state. This support wouldn’t be likely without a healthy understanding of what a great library can bring to a campus.
“A signature library would help us recruit the very best students and the very best faculty and to serve the community as an inspiring place of excellence and passion and ideas and vision,” Nutter said. “You cannot be in this building without realizing that something very important is happening at this university.”
The result is a campus anchor, a library empowered by and rooted in the school’s goals. It is a vibrant articulation of how the learning commons intersects with the scholarly commons. User-centered and dynamic, it makes the future case for academic libraries.
And it will continue to do so as the future becomes the present. Strategic change is key to Nutter’s leadership, as is tapping talent (many now or previously on her team have been named LJ Movers & Shakers). They are likely to keep experimenting and iterating library service as student and faculty needs change.
In “A Tale of Two Libraries” (online soon), University of Rochester’s Mary Ann Mavrinac envisions a vigorous academic library in the year 2020 as “a physical and virtual collaborative hub sustained by an immensely talented staff driving innovation and in perpetual learning mode.” Sounds a lot like what is happening at the Hunt.