May 25, 2017


Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons | New Landmark Libraries 2016 Winner


Making Scholarship Visible

Grand Valley State University | Allendale, MI
ARCHITECT Stantec Architecture

When the library at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI, was built in the late 1960s, the student population was 5,000. Today that number is closer to 25,000 and the university has embraced a collaborative culture that fosters innovation. The Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons gives students control over their environment to a degree rarely seen. The result is a library that “welcomes activity, vibrancy, and the messy creation of new knowledge,” says Dean Lee Van Orsdel.

This environment is based on deep research conducted in partnership with library staff, furniture manufacturer Steelcase, and Stantec, the firm that led the design. The library offers a variety of spaces based on observing social and learning patterns of students, from individual and group to casual and formal work settings. It aims to expose students to the environments they will face after graduation, while fostering academic success. Taking inspiration from shopping malls and European train stations, this project transformed the physical space, service models, and organizational culture of the library during planning, construction, and use. Post-occupancy studies prove that the building, resources, and services are being used as intended, resulting in a youthful yet studious environment where learning is visible.

The vaulted grand atrium with campus views. Photo By James Haefner Photography/Stantec Architecture

The vaulted grand atrium with campus views.
Photo By James Haefner Photography/Stantec Architecture

Green design

Sited on the main campus axis, the new building creates a plaza for student events. The LEED Platinum-certified building excels in sustainable design and management. During construction, a nearby storm sewer was redirected to a storm water management complex, not only protecting habitat during construction but also reducing the need for irrigation. The library anticipates increased green energy use and has built in capacity to adapt the building to support these changes. Invisible investments yield a 44 percent improvement over minimum requirements for annual energy use, including underfloor air distribution, radiant floors, wraparound heat pipes, and high-efficiency mechanicals. Refreshed air in study zones combats drowsiness, and surprising yet carefully constructed views provide natural inspiration.

A green roof mitigates runoff and supports insulation and low energy use. The new building takes advantage of an automated storage and retrieval system to reduce the footprint of the collection to six percent of what it would be in conventional stacks. Some 150,000 volumes are available in browsable shelving.

The design focuses on beauty and delight. A 40-foot-tall glass curtain wall provides views of the campus and creates a four-story atrium that students have named the “living room,” the site of everything from quiet study to performances.

A parabolic curve on the south-facing windows directs light into the atrium. An outdoor amphitheater sits on the other side of the wall, built of the same stone that covers much of the northern façade. To the east, large punched windows incorporate solar shading louvers to manage direct summer sunlight and minimize glare.

STUDENT-CENTERED SPACE Research-driven design led to users being able to control their experience.  (top): the northeast entrance. (l.-r.): the rooftop terrace; nontraditional study spaces in the reading room.  Photos by James Haefner Photography/Stantec Architecture

STUDENT-CENTERED SPACE Research-driven design led to users being able to control their experience.
(top): the northeast entrance. (l.-r.): the rooftop terrace; nontraditional study spaces in the reading room.
Photos by James Haefner Photography/Stantec Architecture

Choice and customization

While the building is designed to foster a range of activities, accommodate multiple noise levels, and connect to expertise, it simultaneously enables student to create their own micro learning environments. Technology-rich exhibit areas include a large programmed video display and glass-enclosed technology showcase and exhibition space adjacent to the atrium.

Through color, texture, lighting, overall style, and built-in furniture, the building invites appropriate use across carefully planned zones. Quiet is cued by the presence of the physical collection, cool colors and cozy, individual seating. Collaboration is indicated by vibrant colors, large windows, lightweight chairs, whiteboards, and furniture that can be grouped in a variety of ways. Technology-enhanced study rooms and learning labs are self-reservable by students, staff, and faculty with software created in-house. In addition to the amphitheater, students can choose to sit under the café patio, on the rooftop study deck, or in a stunning open-air courtyard ( in the center of the building that offers views across the building and provides a portion of the 75 percent penetration of natural light into the interior. Placed throughout the building are 340 works of art.

Services are designed to complement the expertise of librarians while placing students front and center. Student staff are carefully trained to offer customer and consultation service. The Knowledge Market is a peer-to-peer consulting service that partners with the writing center, School of Communications, and new data literacy efforts. In the User Experience department, staff focus on student needs and analyze use of the building to enhance, adapt, and maintain a learning environment that supports the whole student through the academic journey.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

From Shelf Space to Social Space
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