In the eight years I’ve lived in Seattle, a handful of those years were spent living near Seattle University, on the border of the city’s Central District and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. At the time I lived near SU, its library was undergoing extensive renovations. Nearly two years after the A.A. Lemieux Library & James McGoldrick Learning Commons September 2010 dedication, I made my way back to SU to explore the Lemieux Library’s functionality and design. Moreover, I wanted to glean how/whether the library and learning commons’ functionality and design are aiding the undergraduate learning experience at SU.
Before I address my time at Lemieux/McGoldrick, I want to make note of a standout assertion from Scott McLemee’s “For Books, Against Boilerplate,” which is this: “Using a library involves certain skills; they must be conveyed between human beings, rather than Googled.” Now take a look at the Lemieux Library’s mission:
A.A. Lemieux Library integrates comprehensive collections, flexible and personalized services, innovative instructional programs, collaborative relationships, and enabling technologies – operating in, and accessible through, the physical and the digital environments – to make a powerful impact on the educational and scholarly processes of inquiry, discovery, teaching, and learning for the Seattle University academic community (Lemieux mission statement).
Clearly, the Lemieux is into conveying information between human beings (the phrase “collaborative relationships” is big, no?), in addition to helping said human beings make intelligent choices in their use of all things digital. When I walked into the Lemieux (now 125,000 square feet when combined with the learning commons), I walked into a bright, pristine entryway. One of the great features of Lemieux/McGoldrick is that large, easterly windows allow excellent natural light into the building—on all floors. Goodbye gritty flourescent glare!
To my immediate left near the entryway was a reading/technology room (with sound mixing station to boot), and in front of me was a directory before a flight of stairs that leads to the library’s collection. As you can see in the directory picture, floors and the materials on said floors are well labeled. Once on the second floor, I walked into the collections section of the library. The first thing I saw: an information desk. After that, a writing center, math lab, research stations, comfortable seating areas for study, and two large staircases that wind upward to the third through sixth floors—where books, circulation, reading rooms, and library departments can be found.
I appreciated that I wasn’t bombarded by books upon entering the library, and that the reference librarian at the information desk was nearby for help. The design of the Lemieux gives library users time to adjust to surroundings, and the staircases (which seemed massive to me) are obvious visual cues to go up.
On the third floor, many students made use of study rooms, reading rooms, and the circulation desk. In fact, one reading room on the third floor is a designated quiet room (see picture) – no keyboards allowed. And folks, it is quiet—hear-a-pin-drop quiet. Everywhere I went in Lemieux/McGoldrick, students were at work, others were taking it easy with a book, and most seemed to be enjoying their time there. It was so nice outside that students were studying on the library lawn, too.
One of my (minimal) grouses with the library’s design is the public’s inability to take an elevator to the fourth through sixth floors of the building (again, see picture). Once on the third floor of the library, students, faculty, staff, etc. can make their way to subsequent floors, but others have to be okayed to do so. The intent behind the six-floor design at Lemieux/McGoldrick is to have each floor become successively quieter. If you don’t like third floor noise, again, go up for quiet. Granted, when I visited, quiet seemed to be easy to find. Study rooms were full, but groups working at tables in the library were considerate about their sound.
Given that the critical factor in Lemieux/McGoldrick’s functionality and design is to integrate—that single word in the mission statement does a lot of work—the library more than succeeds at what it sets out to do. Take a look at Lemieux/McGoldrick’s floor plan. Notice that stations, stopping points, room to catch one’s breath, etc. are all present in the building’s design.
To me, it seems that using a library isn’t a linear progression of events. In other words, one browses in a library, whether browsing via technology (catalogs, databases, etc.) or browsing stacks. Lemieux/McGoldrick not only allows its patrons to wander and explore for awhile, it also places library staff at the points where they’re likely to be needed most—near the entrance to the library (reference) and near materials (circulation desk on the second floor). A library user at Lemieux/McGoldrick isn’t alone in the process of finding material, accessing databases, getting help with editing a paper, or studying, and through intelligent design and functionality she’s given choices. Providing students with interesting choices for academic assistance, especially in a research and study setting, might make them more apt to hang around, or even…come back.
In “NYPL: Where’s the Model?” Mark Lamster notes, “The library can’t help but face the future, and do so in a proactive way.” And though he’s talking about New York Public Library, the same notion can be applied to Lemieux/McGoldrick. A complete remodel of the old SU library, the present Lemieux/McGoldrick came to be through $55 million in donations to the school. Yes, technology is all over the place, on every floor. But tangible materials (books, media, etc.) are just as present in Lemieux/McGoldrick. Students are engaged with their surroundings at Lemieux/McGoldrick, they’re engaged with one another, and they’re engaged with library staff. Needless to say, I was impressed by the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, where the physical and digital realms are equally represented.