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  • » Information Commons readies for new students

    By Mona Prufer

    Wanting to be wowed?

    Take a walk through the new two-story, multi-windowed Bryan Information Commons at Kimbel Library, which officially opens on Aug. 20 when the fall semester gets under way, and that is likely to be your reaction.

    It could be the open, spacious rooms with natural light supplemented by diffused lighting. It could be "The Bridge" between the two buildings, old and new, anchored by large, attractive columns and soft seating. It could be the high level of technology at every individual student and group workspace, or the high-tech interactive Eno boards, or the Presentation Room or the Zen Study Room. It could be any number of things that makes you stop, pause and utter, "Wow!"

    Barbara Burd, dean of Library Services, is still pinching herself. "There is technology in this building that few universities have," she says. "I have visited libraries on many college and university campuses, and I can tell you we are beyond cutting edge."

    Meagen Harley, a senior who has been a library student worker since she was a freshman, is excited to have at least a year in the new space. "I was just blown away when I first saw it," she says. "Just the spaciousness and how it's decorated, so awesome! Kimbel has outdated furniture that's overused and yucky."

    In 1959, when the University of South Carolina agreed to take little Coastal Carolina College under its statewide wing, the requirement was that Coastal's library must include 20 seats and 1,000 books. Now, at least in the new Information Commons, there are 325 seats and no books. The books, all 120,000 of them, will be housed in the old building of Kimbel Library.

    James Rice, architect and lead designer with SGA Architecture, said the basic concept of the 15,000-square-foot building was to add as many chairs and as much technology as the $6 million budget would allow. There is also an important social factor – the building is a "see and be seen" kind of place where students can look in and see who's there, as well as look out onto the beautiful new green space that used to be Blanton Drive parking area.

    Collaborative workspaces are the big feature here, with mediascapes scattered throughout the big downstairs open area that is flanked by study rooms, a presentation room and Zen study room. Mediascapes are working areas with two large monitors where students can view project documents and each work on them from their individual computers; six laptops can plug into each mediascape at one time.

    The biggest challenge in designing the building, Rice says, was fashioning an entrance that would not be physically located at the front, but that would have maximum impact. The result was a "bridge," an enclosed area from the old Kimbel Library to the new Information Commons with wall-to-wall windows, stylish lighting and a welcoming aspect.

    The architectural design of the building, which was originally set at 30,000 square feet but was cut in half due to budget concerns, is classic brick box, which epitomizes traditional library design. The curved, windowed front of the building represents new technology and a merging of the two elements.

    The entrance joining the Information Commons to the Kimbel Library includes an exhibit area, where the library can showcase faculty and student art, faculty publications or other exhibitions of interest. The first floor has three glass-walled study rooms, one of which has soft seating for a more relaxed study area; 12 high-tech, collaborative work spaces that can seat six to eight individuals; and approximately 30 individual computer workstations.

    Additional tables and a soft seating area complete the first floor design.

    Two study stations with six Mac computers each will be among the most popular areas, and a noise suppression system will be installed so conversations among small groups don't bother other students.

    "Libraries are not shushing places anymore," says Burd, who has been with the CCU library since 2008. "It will be transformative in the way students can work together on projects."

    Flexible task chairs are ergonomic and comfortable, as are S-shaped couches that complete conversation areas. In direct response to student requests, the second floor has a vending machine alcove that leads out to booth and cafe seating. The second-floor bridge that connects the Information Commons to the library proper is a glass structure with lots of sofas and chairs and a wonderful view of the campus. Five technology-rich study rooms include large screen wall-mounted monitors, projection capabilities and interactive Eno whiteboards. A combination of computer workstations and laptop work tables fills the open area of the second floor.

    The Bryan Information Commons is named for the Bryan family of Conway. A $1.8 million gift from the estate of Rebecca Randall Bryan in 2001 marked the largest single cash gift to CCU at that time.

    The most important message Burd wants to convey is how much students were involved in the planning process, which began with a student advisory group that weighed in on what the furniture would look like and what technology needs students have.

    "I feel like the parent on Christmas Eve, just waiting to see how the kids will react," says Burd, talking about the return of students in August.