A haven for the mind

President Adam Falk’s announcement that the Board of Trustees has given the go-ahead for construction of the new College library and IT center comes as most welcome news. There is much to be excited about. As the final component of the larger Stetson/Sawyer project, including Schapiro and Hollander Halls, new Sawyer Library will complete the academic center of campus on the north side of Route 2. A major new green space will be created where Sawyer is now located and will serve as a unifying element of this precinct.

The older Stetson Hall will serve as the architectural fulcrum of the area, its large spaces restored to their former glory. In keeping with its other historic uses, Stetson will once again provide a historic reading room, faculty offices and classrooms. The spaces on the Stetson main floor are configured so that they can be open 24/7.

Built to the east of Stetson, the new construction will feature the main campus library housing collections in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Users will also have access to two important special collections: the College Archives and the Chapin Library of Rare Books. These incredibly rich collections offer students an opportunity to examine first-hand a remarkable array of important early works and primary sources, often related to course offerings. Williams stands out in that such collections are not normally available except in the finest major research universities or rare book collections. A significant technology presence will be provided by the newly created Center for Media Initiatives and by various configurations of public computers and group room projection. Other highlights in new construction include a learning commons anchored by the Library Research Help Desk, a café-forum-news area and a current journals reading room employing historic woodwork transferred from the Stetson’s Preston Room.

We asked architects Bohlin, Cywinski, Jackson to work with us to create a building that is easy to navigate, a joy to be in and one that provides a variety of seating and learning environments. In order to get the details right, the architects held public meetings, met regularly with the Stetson/Sawyer Committee and, on several occasions, with the assistance of student Committee members, with focus groups of students. The Jonas Milder experimental seating installations on the main and second floor of Sawyer also provided valuable insight into when, whether and how different styles and arrangements of seating are used.

Library collections will be surrounded by a variety of carrel, lounge, table and study room seating placed to take full advantage of the gorgeous views (similar to the north and east vistas of the upper floors of Hollander Hall). The importance of this variety of seating was established through numerous conversations with members of the campus community, particularly students. Later in the process, sample seating will be available for testing by library users. The new library will offer eighteen group study and project rooms, a comfortable living room-like area, a mezzanine with extraordinary views, media creation studios and instruction and training rooms. Three separate rooms will be dedicated to hands-on course-integrated instruction and training and a gallery in the special collections area will for the first time permit hanging of prints from that exquisite Chapin collection. Throughout the new building, day lighting will make the spaces airy and welcoming. The views will make it obvious that the library is located on a beautiful campus ringed by wooded hills.

The new Sawyer will stand out as a building that combines an iconic, beloved historic building with a bold new space designed to ensure flexibility and adaptability for the future. It will serve as a place for study, research, contemplation, collaboration, teaching and learning. Under one roof, users will be able to exploit the deep, rich collections of today’s Sawyer together with the extraordinary materials held by the Chapin Library and College Archives. Librarians and information technologists will be present to work with students, faculty, staff and visitors to meet their research and information needs. In the long awaited new Sawyer Library the College will finally be getting the high quality learning environment that is in keeping with our goal of providing the finest possible liberal arts education.