Scholars in the Sandbox
Can today's library meet the changing needs of learning, while building social connections and reinforcing campus culture?
The revitalized Kreitzberg Library embodies the shift toward more collaborative and social learning environments, while serving as a testing ground for two new classroom types. Visits have increased dramatically, while insights from the pilot classrooms — for which faculty competed to test drive — informed capital investments that would subsequently touch 45% of campus classroom inventory.
Kreitzberg library was designed in 1991. Although the “bones” of the building remained strong, programmatic deficiencies grew as technology advanced and instructional methods evolved. Aspects of the library’s operations and program were being left behind, and with each passing semester, gate count was declining.
Jones got involved with the library in 2013 to change this trajectory. Analysis showed that library seat count was a key problem — as was seat type. The number of undergraduates who could find a seat was significantly fewer than at peer institutions. Surveys of the campus population confirmed that this had an exponential effect on library visits — students were less likely to even go to the library, much less find a place to sit. If they did, they’d likely find a carrel; there were very few group-study rooms, no instruction spaces, and limited lounge seating.
There are now 220 seats, which anticipates 12% growth in student population through 2025 and meets the university’s goal of ensuring that 18% of undergraduates can find a seat in the library. This target is lower than our research shows (closer to 20%) but is driven by a combination of space and budget constraints, along with campus plans that allow for a more distributed model of study space. For more seats to be meaningful, however, they need to be the right kind, in the right mix— in this case a combination of soft seating, open tables, and group study areas.
Allied programs housed in the library included a counseling center and an academic achievement center. It is also home to the special collections and archives, an important steward of the school’s history, and regularly used as a resource for coursework, even hosting classes in the special collections space to review sensitive material. These partner programs remain, some modified to better serve new needs, and continue to be integral to the library’s vitality.
To address the lack of instruction space, Jones, which had recently completed an academic core precinct plan for Norwich that would ultimately touch 45% of the classroom inventory on campus, suggested that the library could meet the librarians’ need for teaching space while providing an opportunity to test two types of classrooms — one high-tech, the other “high touch”— in a comparatively low-stakes venue. The essential challenge: as pedagogy evolves from face-forward lecture modes (sage on the stage) to more team-based learning (guide on the side), what is the right blend of technology, furniture, flexibility, and adaptability for Norwich University?
Although intended for use by librarians to guide faculty and students through new technologies and teaching strategies, demand from the faculty grew quickly. The library used an RFP process requiring faculty to articulate how they would leverage the characteristics of each room in their pedagogical approach. Faculty use of the spaces has compared favorably and above university average (55% in the library vs. 44% in campus classrooms); this does not include librarian usage of the classrooms for instruction and training! Moreover, these scholarly “sandboxes” have given faculty and administration an environment where they can explore alternative methodologies and approaches – and in doing so, they have helped to inform designs for other projects on campus.
With more and better seating, improved circulation, experimental instructional spaces, and an addition to the original building that provides lounge areas and a café, Kreitzberg Library is today one of the more vibrant gathering and social hubs on campus, reflected in an 84% increase in gate count the year after completion.
“Serious academic research takes place in libraries like Kreitzberg, but for this project it was important to remember that libraries can be a place for people with books in it, rather than the other way around.”
— Rick Jones
“Norwich University is thrilled with the transformation of our library.”
— David Magida, Chief Administrative Officer (ret.), Norwich University
Often we are representing our clients with state agencies that incentivize sustainable design through rebate programs. Working closely with Efficiency Vermont to identify appropriate systems selections was a focus of this project.
Principal in Charge: Rick Jones
Project Director: Sandra Venus
E.F. Wall & Associates
DeWolfe Engineering Associates
DuBois & King
Light Space Design
AV & Technology Consultant:
Vantage Technology Consulting Group