A Tour of the Renovated Brookens
“The way students use a library now”
A Guest Post by Dean Pattie Piotrowski
Last year, Library Dean Pattie Piotrowski and her team worked closely with UIS Facilities and Services to refresh the Main Level of Brookens. Enjoy a guided tour with her through the refreshed space.
After the architects had a chance to come to Brookens and watch how our students use the space, one of the first things said was that we had no focus in the space. Where are students going? What direction are they walking? They suggested (strongly) that we put a pathway down between our columns. Now, when many students enter the space, they do exactly what the architect said. They’ll come to the concourse, walk down the middle, and then peel off to use whatever resources or space they want to. In one direction, they’re headed to the classroom and in the other back to the main desk. So it does provide a focus.
As you look down the Pathway, you can see a wall at the back of the library. We were a little concerned about the sound quality of the classroom which is behind this wall, so we now have acoustic tiles on the wall. We think they are a little similar to the spokes in the ceiling, which we like. The white boards on the sides are clear glass and lend a little elegance to that wall.
We chose furniture that makes the space look more like a little seating area. Just about any time you come in here, you’ll see students sitting there. In fact, as the workers unpacked the furniture, literally as soon as they had one piece put together, students were sitting in it. So we knew we had made the right choice about both placement and what type of furniture.
Repositioned computer tables
Previously the computer tables were all grouped in one area with hard wiring coming down through a conduit in the middle of the space. One of the first things we decided was to group the computer tables around the pillars instead and have all of hard wiring run down the pillars. We also doubled the size of the computer tables because we recognized that students sit at a computer with a book, a tablet, other materials, and they want to be able to spread out. The tables have space for two students to sit at the desks, and some of the tables also have dual monitors which students like.
To the left of the pathway, where the computer desks used to be, we have something like living room seating that allows students to spread out and just be casual. This is where our popular collection is—best sellers, cookbooks, graphic novels, anime and things like that, things that are not necessarily part of a scholarly collection. We make the collection easy to browse.
New books shelf
We do still leave our New Books shelf close to the entrance because these are the scholarly new books that students can browse and check out.
We also left a display area on the one side. That’s where we have DVD Binge Kits, each with three movies, candy and popcorn. We also do staff picks. Right now we are displaying Zines that students in Dr. Cass’ English 368 class created and a few of our staff’s favorite cookbooks. So that’s also a casual area.
Open space with mobile furniture
Then as you walk further back, the rest of the space basically has mobile furniture, mobile tables, chairs, and white boards—everything chosen so that students can put together the space they need. Sometimes we see a group bring together two or three white boards to create a quiet space around a table or chairs to create a living room space for themselves. There may be just two people studying together, a group of eight or a group of twelve.
There are two larger items which do not have wheels on them because of stability issues, but we still have students pull the wheeled objects over to them—tables, other wheeled chairs, everything might be pulled up there to make those areas bigger.
Along the far back side, we have monitors on the wall that students can plug their computer into and a table where they can all work on the same project. Students can pull up a whiteboard in front so that people can’t see what they are working on or watching. Quite frankly, I’m as encouraged to see students sit and watch World Cup Soccer as I am to see them working on a project together. We just want that moment when they feel comfortable in the library and they are bonding with other students.
Feature film collection
Our most popular collection, the collection that circulates the most, is our DVD or feature-film collection. We decided to leave that here on the main floor as well.
We also have a new classroom at the end used primarily for library instruction. It’s also available for student organizations to use.
After the renovation, I heard students say, “Oh, new furniture!” No. All that furniture was here. You just couldn’t see it. All we really needed to do was take down the shelving and open the space up.
Our designer suggested the color of the back wall to us, and I’m really happy with the way it came out. I think it compliments the brick walls well.
I’m also pleased that the furniture layout and the carpet layout matches our ceiling—which we could not do anything about. Instead, we have embraced what I call the retro qualities in this building, and that ceiling is one of them. We like that ceiling. It looks wonderful in photos, and it still gives enough light for the students to be able to do their work.
Some of my favorite times in the library are during finals week, when I can walk up to a table and there are laptops and iPads and phones around the students and five different kinds of beverages and snacks.* Other than that, this is the way students use the library now. They are going to come in and study, eat here, and work together.
Brookens now reflects recent trends in libraries. We were so fortunate to have the support of the Chancellor for our renovations.
*In case you’re wondering about food and drink in the library, all we ask is that the students’ beverage containers have lids and that they are very careful with food around the computers. The library should be a place where students (and you) can bring food and drink. Besides we have Starbucks on campus! How am I going to say, Don’t bring your Starbucks in?