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College studies a new library

College studies a new library

Photo by Kristen Huffman

What would you want in a new library?”

Ron Griggs, vice president for library and information services (LBIS), said he will pose this question to Kenyon community members repeatedly this year.

As the College explores the possibility of building a new library to replace the Olin and Chalmers Memorial Libraries, LBIS formed a logistics committee this summer to gauge what would happen in the interim. The committee is anticipating a possible move-out in the summer of 2017, with move-in two years later, according to Elizabeth Williams-Clymer, special collections librarian. Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman said no one at the College has officially “committed to this timeline.”

This week, the board of trustees is expected to vote on approving the concept of the west quad, a plan for the space west of the current libraries that also includes replacing them with a single building. The west quad is the largest-scale building proposal in Kenyon’s Master Plan, which was designed by GUND Partnership, the architecture and planning firm of Graham Gund ’63.

GUND Partnership has drawn up a few preliminary designs for what the library might look like, but no plans are final. The 2004 master plan detailed Chalmers being replaced and Olin preserved, but its update last year shows just one building.

“At this stage, we’re putting the question on the table of what it’s possible to imagine in this space and getting input from the community on what those possibilities can look like,” President Sean Decatur said. “There’s no predetermined plan or structure. That has to come from input and discussion from folks in the campus community.”

In September, administrators and a representative from GUND Partnership traveled to North Carolina State University’s James B. Hunt Jr. Library for a conference on designing libraries in the 21st century. They left the conference with a better idea of what a technologically successful library looks like, Kohlman said.

The College is prioritizing a library over other campus construction projects because of the possibilities its central location raises, Decatur said. In his vision, a new library would house academic support services such as the Career Development Office.

“One question is, What are the types of academic support programs that would be useful to have in the center of campus?” Decatur said. “How can we think of integrating and connecting those?”

A new library might also bring together the resources and technology needed for undergraduate research, according to Decatur.

“Part of the 2020 set of priorities is, How do we increase opportunities for student undergraduate research and student research that happens outside of the sciences?” Decatur said. “Those things require more flexible space than we have right now.”

In their current state Olin and Chalmers cannot easily accommodate new technology, Griggs said, noting that upgrading the electrical systems in Chalmers would not be cost-effective.

A library would be built to adapt to new technologies, Decatur said.

“We need a space that is incredibly flexible, so whatever the future brings, it should have that ability to adjust,” Amy Badertscher, assistant vice president of LBIS, said. “When you look at Olin-Chalmers, flexibility stops at certain points.”

On Feb. 26, the Buildings and Grounds Committee sent out a survey asking students which Master Plan project they wanted to see undertaken first. Of 583 responses, a majority of students listed a new library as the change they would most like to see on campus.

Carolyn Sowa ’16 said she doesn’t think a library should be a priority.

“Housing is a prevalent issue on campus so, while it’s an admirable endeavor to build another library, I think there are more pressing concerns,” Sowa said.

Maggie Stohlman ’16 also noted a need for more housing, but said, “In terms of the layout of the campus, I think the library does not fit in architecturally with the rest of the buildings on south campus so, in that sense, I do think that it needs to be renovated.”

The library’s logistics committee is now looking at where library staff and resources will go during the construction phase.

“It is a possibility that some staff may move to Bexley, but there’s no definite answer of where to go,” Williams-Clymer said. “There is likely going to be modular units, but where those go will be determined.”

Right now, the administration is working to gauge student and faculty opinion through focus groups, open forums and open meetings. This summer, library administrators ran two focus groups with summer students and one with faculty. They had an open meeting with faculty at the beginning of the year and another is scheduled for Nov. 28.

There will be an open forum to gather input from community members on the new library plan on Thursday, Nov. 12 during common hour in Olin Auditorium.

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