Library renovations fail to satisfy

Anne Rosencrans

There are two types of people on this campus: library enthusiasts and everyone else. The typical library enthusiast is identified by: 1. loyalty to a certain “spot” in the library, 2. certainty that “their” library (Gault, Andrews or Timken) is superior to the other libraries, and 3. a proclaimed inability to do work at any other campus location.

The library enthusiast is a product of the personality, spirit and warmth of the Wooster community.  The warm colors and open spaces in each library have always reflected those values by making the library as welcoming as possible. Even the writing center has a home-like feel, with a fireplace, chandelier and couches.

As a self-proclaimed library enthusiast, I could barely contain my excitement when I heard about the renovation of the first floor of Andrews Library into the Collaborative Research Environment (CoRE). I loved the idea of having a space for student collaboration and the idea of replacing some of the older, unused spaces in the back of Andrews Library with new spaces. I imagined a renovation similar to the new Scot Center, with warm colors and bright accents, and I imagined comfortable new furniture without dirty jokes scratched into the tables. To say that CoRE did not live up to my expectations would be an understatement.

I entered CoRE for the first time through Gault Library. As the green carpet and bright atmosphere of Gault gave way to the gray walls, artificial light and narrow hallways of CoRE, I felt a knot form in the pit of my stomach. The metal accents and high-set windows of the study rooms made the space feel more like the core of the earth than the core of a school curriculum.

I was leading a campus tour at the time. Even though the family was impressed by the state-of-the-art technology at hand, nothing could disguise how painfully foreign the area was in contrast to the rest of the library. Although I explained that the rest of the first floor would likely be renovated in the future, I remained as perplexed by the new facility as they were.

The design of CoRE seems odd to me. A facility that is made to encourage group sharing, group collaboration and student performance should make students feel as comfortable and open as possible. Instead, the extra walls, even those made of glass, give the area a closed-off feeling. I have heard students describe the paint and carpet colors as “cold,” “gloomy” and even “sterile.” The facility is a sharp contrast to the Scot Center or Lowry Pit, where warm colors, comfort, school pride and inclusion of natural light were priorities during renovations (Lowry Pit was redone in January 2010).

I am sure that CoRE will be a wonderful place for students to use the best technology available, receive help on assignments, practice presentations and collaborate with each other. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder whether the collaboration can be successful if students do not feel fully comfortable in the space. As impressive as the facility may be, you must excuse me if I choose to stay in Gault Library from now on.