University planning modern-day update to building that opened in 1970

University planning modern-day update to building that opened in 1970

URBANA – The year: 1970. Vinyl was in. Platform shoes were gaining momentum. The personal computer? Still years away.

In the three decades since the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library opened its doors, the vinyl chairs have split open. And just about every table has a laptop, tablet computer or other portable device brought in by students.

Good luck trying to find an electrical outlet on a weekday evening.

It's time for a makeover. A library makeover.

In the next few years the university plans to update the Undergraduate Library. They're calling it "Extreme Makeover: Library Edition;" it's a reconceptualization, if you will. The end result will be the Learning Commons.

"It's really exciting," said Lisa Hinchliffe, who will become the Undergraduate Librarian this summer.

Imagine, instead of one big room filled with rows of tables or study carrels, a room with a variety of work spaces, said Lori Mestre, UI Digital Learning Librarian. Instead of checking out an audio tape of a political speech, students instead could access a digitized version of the speech. They could check out laptops, video recorders and other equipment for use in the library. They could draft a presentation, then view it.

"(Students) have long been provided with a space to write; now they're creating sound, images, statistics," Hinchliffe said.

And now it's time for the library to change with the students, to better accommodate and encourage the "creation of knowledge", Hinchliffe said.

Upperclassmen and graduates have their specialty and departmental libraries. But as for the undergraduates, they don't really have their own academic space, Hinchliffe said. The Undergraduate Library "is clearly a very different library," she said.

Stop by on a busy evening and it's not exactly quiet. Students collaborate on a lot of projects. In corners and rooms around the library, workshops and seminars are being held.

In the past, there was a periodicals area and a periodicals desk. There were separate collections and separate desks where students could seek information on specialized topics. That will change. Staff wants to weave in technology support, too.

"It's about making things more seamless for students," Mestre said.

During spring break, library staff started taking down many of the carrels, those enclosed study spaces. By June they hope to shift different stacks of collections and move media resources to the library's lower level, opening more space on the main floor.

"By September we hope to have more of a welcoming area," Hinchliffe said.

The whole process of converting will take about two to three years, with time along the way to assess how things are going.

"We want to do things, then see how students respond," Hinchliffe said.

So far they've conducted surveys and held focus groups. They're advertising the makeover around campus and in the future expect to form a student advisory board.

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