Library plans undergo modification

While the North and South Academic buildings have proved to be aesthetic, sustainable and functional successes, the last part of the ambitious Stetson-Sawyer Project – a library facility of equally high caliber – remains missing. In light of endowment decreases and financial uncertainty, senior staff made the decision this fall to push back the next phase of the project a full year, with construction completion now slated for 2012. This pause was not completely unexpected, as initial project plans incorporated the possibility of putting the library construction on hold after the completion of the two academic buildings, depending on economic conditions.

According to Michael Brown, professor of anthropology and director of the project, the delay is disappointing since the College’s library and information technology facilities “simply don’t measure up to those of other top liberal arts colleges.” Sawyer is also close to reaching its book-carrying capacity: the library acquires new titles almost daily and room to hold them is running out.

However, according to Brown, the delay of the project may, in the long run, be to the advantage of the College. To go ahead with the project in the current financial climate would have been “risky, perhaps even irresponsible,” he said. The delay may even be advantageous because a project cost decline will likely occur in the coming months. “We’ve already seen significant reductions in the cost of energy and construction materials such as copper and steel,” he said, which will amount to major bottom-line savings in a project of such enormous scale.

Additionally, without the original time constraints, the new library may be better designed. While no fundamental changes have been made to the original plans, the pause has given architects the opportunity to be “a little more deliberate, a little more thoughtful,” said David Pilachowski, librarian and co-chair of the project.

Two main design elements have been modified. The atrium central to the building is to be adorned with light-catching elements to carry light from the top floor to the bottom, café-style level. Maple paneling to absorb sound and reflect light will replace the original steel design, providing a warmer, less industrial ambiance. According to the project overseers, the abundance of glass will reverse the current, crowded feel of Sawyer and take full advantage of the surrounding landscape. Designers hope the building’s overall style will blend with the Paresky Center and new academic buildings.

The new library will improve the College in ways beyond mere aesthetics. Currently, due to limited space, several collections of books and materials, including the Chapin Rare Books Library and the archives and special collections, are in storage and inaccessible to students and faculty, Brown said. However, librarians discussed with professors which subject materials the students and faculty would need before moving the books away from campus, so the stored materials are resources not used as frequently. Currently, the archives and rare books are stored in the Stetson-Sawyer project’s Library Shelving Facility along Rt. 7.

The facility also currently houses old journals previously stored in Stetson and journals are being moved there from campus at a rate of about 200 volumes per day. These journals are being instantaneously catalogued such that they are still accessible within 24 hours of transfer. Librarian Alison O’Grady said students can still request articles from stored journals, which facility staff will then scan and send via e-mail.

According to O’Grady, project managers have made keeping books on campus a main priority in order to minimize the project’s impact on student and faculty research and enjoyment.