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Alden Library enters first of five-phase, five-year renovation


As Ohio University Libraries wraps up a yearlong celebration of its bicentennial, it is in the midst of penning the next big chapter in its history of supporting the academic mission of the University.

Building on its legacy of serving as the intellectual center of OHIO’s Athens Campus, University Libraries is embarking on a five-year, five-phase, approximately $30 million renovation of Alden Library.

Opened in February 1969, the approximately 375,000-square-foot Alden Library is undoubtedly the center of the campus’ intellectual activity, but, according to University Libraries Dean Scott Seaman, that means something very different in the 21st century than it did in the 20th century.

“Libraries are being used completely differently than they were a generation ago,” Seaman explained. “Alden Library is about 45 years old. It was built in a print world to manage print content. Today, almost all of our scholarly content is produced and distributed digitally. The World Wide Web completely changed the way people access information, but also the way they use it.”

“You can do things with network information that were not possible to do in a print world and create new kinds of scholarly products – everything from web pages to interactive digital projects,” Seaman added. “In undergoing this major renovation, we are planning for a digital world in which most of our information is online but with an important core legacy of print content.”

In addition to responding to changes in the ways students, educators and researchers access and use information, the renovations already under way at Alden Library are also designed to better accommodate the increased use of the Library. Alden Library remains one of the most-used buildings on the Athens Campus and is seeing 4 percent to 5 percent increases in traffic every year.

“In renovating this building, we want to create spaces that are extremely flexible, so that not just 20 years from now, but even during the semester, the building’s spaces can adapt to student and faculty needs,” Seaman said. “As we go through a semester, the rhythm changes. There are times when students need deep quiet space, and there are other points during which a lot of collaborative work is happening. This building is so heavily used that it has to be changeable just to accommodate our traffic and the work that is happening here.”

Phase I to focus on Alden’s second and fourth floors

During fall semester, University Libraries launched the first phase of the Alden Library renovation. The smallest of all the phases, the $2.5 million Phase I renovation has two primary goals – the relocation of the University’s Academic Advancement Center (AAC) and the opening of Alden’s fourth floor for 24-hour use.

DYK-Alden second floor diagram

This diagram captures the set-up of Alden Library’s second floor once renovations are completed next spring. Highlighting the planned changes is the relocation of OHIO’s Academic Advancement Center from the first floor of Alden to the second floor, adjacent to the popular Learning Commons. (Diagram courtesy of the DesignGroup)

Currently located on the first floor of Alden Library, the AAC strives to support undergraduate education by providing services that range from tutoring to supplemental instruction to academic skill development and guidance – all as a means of ensuring student success and retention. Part of Alden’s Phase I renovation focuses on relocating the AAC to the Library’s second floor adjacent to the Learning Commons.

“We think that taking the Academic Advancement Center out of the basement and putting it on the second floor where there’s a lot of traffic will bring visibility to the center and better integrate what the staff at the AAC does with what the staff at the Library does, working one-on-one with students,” Seaman explained. “I think this will have a very tangible impact on student retention. There’s an important mix of students who use those resources for out-of-class learning support.”

The relocated AAC will be situated in the vacant media lab space in the southeast corner of Alden’s second floor. According to Seaman, University Libraries is hoping to open the relocated AAC spring semester of 2016.

DYK-Alden AAC relocation

This artist’s rendering shows part of the interior of the relocated Academic Advancement Center, with a view from the tutoring area to the reception area. (Artist’s rendering courtesy of the DesignGroup)

The second major goal of Phase I is also slated to be completed by spring 2016 – the opening of Alden Library’s fourth floor 24 hours a day, five days a week.

According to Seaman, opening the fourth floor to 24-hour service will allow University Libraries to address student and faculty requests for additional 24-hour spaces and relieve pressure on Alden’s second-floor Learning Commons. Created 10 years ago, the Learning Commons provides the campus 24-hour, five-days-a-week access to the Library.

“When we survey students and faculty, the No. 1 complaint is that there’s not enough space available 24 hours,” Seaman said. “In opening the fourth floor 24 hours, the intention is that the fourth floor would complement, not duplicate, the second floor, reserving the fourth floor for more quiet space and the second floor for more collaboration.”

DYK-Alden fourth floor diagram

This diagram shows the more “open study” concept that will be executed on Alden Library’s fourth floor following the Phase I renovation. (Diagram courtesy of the DesignGroup)

In its quest to create more space for quiet study, University Libraries is currently experimenting with various furniture configurations on its fourth floor.

“The renovated fourth floor would not have lots of group study rooms or things like that,” Seaman noted. “Instead, it would be much more open, much more landscaped with furniture. The goal is to have furniture that is moveable and can adapt throughout the semester to create small collaborative areas or deep quiet spaces without adding costly and space-consuming architecture.”

University Libraries recently purchased about a dozen Panton ball chairs as well as new sofas that are in the shape of a semicircle. According to Seaman, the chairs act as a sort of cocoon, creating a deep quiet space within an active environment, while the sofas provide a space for collaboration that restricts the amount of noise emanating from that group work.

DYK-Library panton chairs

Samuel McCoy, a first-year student majoring in media arts and studies, works inside a Panton ball chair March 30 on the fourth floor of Alden Library. (Photo by Tyler Stabile/University Libraries)

“We’re not spending money on erecting walls or giant service desks,” Seaman said. “Instead, we’re using furniture to landscape the space and then allowing students to move the furniture as they need it and to adjust the furniture to the rhythm of the semester.”

As part of the Alden renovations, Phase I also includes significant infrastructure upgrades. During fall semester, some of the Library’s air handlers were replaced to improve atmospheric conditions within the building. And, under Phase I, Alden’s fourth floor will see expanded restrooms and 21st-century elevators, which will allow the opening of that floor 24 hours.

“The new elevators will be programmable,” Seaman explained. “When we open the fourth floor 24 hours, the elevators will stop servicing all the other floors at midnight and will only run between the second and fourth floors.”

Alden’s elevator upgrades are expected to be completed this semester.

As the products of scholarship continue to change rapidly, the need for spaces that accommodate those products – everything from video to audio and multimedia – continues to rise. As a result, the first phase of the renovation also involves experiments with classroom spaces that will help dictate future phases of the renovation.

“We’ve been experimenting with new library classroom spaces to see what works and what we should fold into a renovated building on a much larger scale,” Seaman said.

DYK-Library active learning lab

(From left) Neu Jacobson, an undecided first-year student; Christine Baucco, a first-year student studying pre-athletic training; Allison Clark, a first-year biology major; and Ian Stewart, a first-year finance major, utilize the active learning lab during their English class on the third floor of Alden Library. (Photo by Tyler Stabile/University Libraries)

Experimental classroom space is being developed on Alden’s second and third floors.

Renovations in the years to come to include changes throughout Alden

Future phases of Alden’s renovation will include improvements to all floors of the Library – all as a means of serving OHIO’s students, faculty and researchers in the decades to come. According to Seaman, there are numerous overall goals of the renovation, including:

To create comfortable, extremely flexible work spaces that adapt to users’ needs throughout the academic year and decades into the future

  • To relocate key library services to be more meaningful and user-friendly
  • To optimize the number and location of library service desks
  • To co-locate staff into a single space to gain efficiency and to provide a one-stop shop for faculty support
  • To integrate exhibit presentation and classroom spaces that would add visibility to OHIO’s unique treasure of special collections
  • To address significant infrastructure needs, including ADA-compliant restrooms
  • To create a much more inviting and welcoming entrance off Park Place

“One of the things we know about libraries is that the more time students spend in a library, the more academically successful they are,” Seaman explained. “We want to create a place that is warm and social and that encourages learning.”

As Alden Library undergoes these significant changes, the staff at University Libraries is committed to keeping the OHIO and local communities informed and involved in the process. University Libraries has already created a web page dedicated to updates on the renovation. In addition, it is in the process of creating a much more elaborate website that will provide comprehensive information on the entire project.

“Alden Library is going to undergo a lot of change,” Seaman said. “People have deep emotional ties to libraries. I think it’s very important for us to maintain our history and our sense of place while at the same time looking forward. This library has done that for decades and has a tradition of doing it successfully. I hope the community reaction is one of looking forward and being excited about new possibilities.”

This is the last article in a special Compass series produced through a partnership between Ohio University Communications and Marketing and University Libraries in honor of the Libraries’ 200th anniversary. To see the entire series of articles, click here.

Private donations continue to help facilitate Alden’s evolution

For nearly as long as there’s been an Ohio University, there’s been Ohio University Libraries, an entity whose legacy of academic support has been and continues to be built in part upon the support it receives from private donors.

And while Phase I of the five-year, five-phase renovation to Alden Library will be funded by the University, future phases will be funded through a combination of University and private dollars.

“We have evidence of donations to the Library going back to almost the very beginning of University Libraries,” said Doug Partusch, an OHIO graduate who has served as director of development for University Libraries since 2009.

“Private donations have been really important to this Library, particularly if you look back over our 200 years,” added Scott Seaman, dean of University Libraries. “Donations have really made this Library what it is.”

In addition to monetary donations, Seaman noted donors who have provided University Libraries special collections in dance, World War II, Asian culture and political science, saying, “Those are the things that make this Library really, really special.”

Partusch commented on the substantial endowments held by University Libraries that have helped with numerous projects, including preservations efforts, materials acquisition and collection enhancement.

According to Partusch, it’s private donations that are going to help University Libraries transform its primary facility – Alden Library – to be able to continue supporting the academic mission of OHIO in the decades to come.

Partusch explained that OHIO’s Promise Lives Campaign helped University Libraries develop a master plan for Alden Library. University Libraries met and exceeded its campaign goal, and some of the funds donated through that effort will be used for the Alden renovations.

“Fundraising is going to help us really realize the transformation of Alden Library,” Partusch said. “Our challenge is always trying to project what students, faculty and staff are going to need in five, 10, 15 years. Private fundraising will help us reconfigure, reimagine the Library in response to the needs of the academic community.”

University Libraries is settling into a second phase of fundraising beyond The Promise Lives Campaign that will be specifically for the Alden renovations.

“We are already fundraising for the project and have had some success,” Seaman said.

Partusch noted that future fundraising efforts will likely include naming opportunities within Alden.

“An investment in University Libraries is an investment in the academic strength of this institution,” Partusch said. “A strong library is really a recruiting tool, increasingly so for undergraduate students but certainly for graduate students and faculty as well. An investment in University Libraries is one that is going to be long-lasting and also significant in supporting the teaching, learning and research role of the University.”

For more information on how you can support University Libraries and the Alden Library renovation, contact Doug Partusch at partusch@ohio.edu or at 740-593-2683.