The Noodle Factory Reborn

Library interior
A bright, open foyer welcomes students into the renovated library.

Building a 21st-century library

Over the past 20 years, the advance of the digital age has wrought significant change for academic libraries, shifting the focus from preserving materials to providing access to the content of those materials. That access has become increasingly multidimensional, with information now available via electronic books, Internet resources, streamed video, full-text databases and open-access digital archives, among other sources.

The rise of technology and its impact on library collections has led to physical changes within academic libraries. For example, the profusion of materials now available online has allowed libraries to repurpose the space once used for printed materials. With the renovations, Shain’s book-stack footprint was reduced by one-third, which created space for the Academic Resource Center, as well as additional study and collaboration areas.

The increased emphasis on technology and digital resources does not, however, spell the end of print. Today’s progressive libraries continue to acquire and curate legacy print materials — both in the general collection and in special collections — but the way those materials are treated is evidence of another major change in academic libraries. In the past, it was common for archivists to err on the side of preservation and limit access to special collections. Today, the number of undergraduate classes making use of these primary research materials is a point of pride among library directors, and this change in practice has allowed students access to unique materials.

“In the past year alone, we’ve seen a threefold increase in the number of classes using our special collections,” says Benjamin Panciera, the Ruth Rusch Sheppe ’40 Director of Special Collections. “Thanks to the generosity of Linda Lear, we were able to completely renovate the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives several years ago. With the greater library space completely renovated, we expect use of this important resource to increase even more.” 

Perhaps counterintuitively, library staff members remain key resources in the age of technology. While the vast and fast capabilities of search engines like Google have led to an increase in do-it-yourself reference behavior, librarians and other personnel remain essential to a successful library — and not just for research assistance. Modern academic libraries are likely to offer myriad support services provided by instructional technologists, computer technicians, programmers and learning specialists.

These professionals have much more to work with in the renovated Shain’s Technology Commons, which features two gifts from Diane Y. Williams ’59: a bank of high-performance, dual-monitor workstations that are able to run the most demanding software applications, and a Christie MicroTile Visualization Wall — the first of its kind among New England liberal arts colleges — that allows students and faculty to develop and view projects on a large, high-definition “digital canvas.” 

Near the Technology Commons is the Digital Scholarship and Curriculum Center (DSCC), which uses advanced instructional technology tools to help faculty develop innovative teaching methodologies and help students produce quality multimedia projects. Professor of Economics Rolf Jensen, for example, uses the DSCC for video editing for his economic development course, as well as his own documentary film work.

Students' learning processes today require lots of creativity and teamwork, and we now have the brick and mortar to reflect that.

Ethan Underhill '15‍, President, Student Government Association

Support for today's student

The renovations to Shain also reflect an ongoing transformation in pedagogy and study habits. Colleges have experienced a shift in teaching methods, with faculty moving away from a lecture-based, print-research model toward a richer, more flexible model that encourages collaborative study, research and project work. 

At the same time, college students are now more likely to study with friends, even if they are not working on a project together. The new Shain reflects this culture with 10 reservable collaboration rooms, some outfitted with whiteboard walls and LCD panels with which to share laptop displays among study group participants.

Those design features are some of the most important to students. 

"Something I have always loved about Conn is that, instead of competing with one another, students are more than willing to work together and help each other out. I think the new features in the library will really help students achieve their academic goals in new and exciting ways," says Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President Claire von Loesecke '15.

Yet there is still a need for individual space, such as study carrels or smaller tables, where students can write papers or prepare for final exams. There are plenty of these in the new Shain, and the third floor remains a student-enforced quiet zone.

In recent years, colleges have also become more accommodating to students with busy schedules or 
night-owl tendencies, and Connecticut College is no different. The library's popular coffee and snack shop, the Blue Camel Café — now enlarged and located in a prominent first-floor spot — doubles as a 24-hour study space.

The renovated Shain Library also has a much more robust wireless network infrastructure to handle the ever-increasing digital load. And because nearly every student uses a laptop computer when researching and studying — and many use multiple devices simultaneously — all seats in the building have an electrical outlet nearby to keep those devices charged. 

"Students' learning processes today require lots of creativity and teamwork, and we now have the brick and mortar to reflect that," says SGA President Ethan Underhill '15. "From the technological boosts in the basement to the collaboration and reading rooms throughout the building, Shain now fosters the stimulating environment we need in a library. The whole building feels more like a startup office."

New Features

New Shain, our gain

Colleges and architects today envision and produce libraries as iconic structures, symbolizing the status of research and scholarship as central to academic life, while also promoting the integration of services necessary for a successful academic library in the 21st century. Shain can now be counted among them. 

“The Shain Library renovation was an ambitious project that serves as a powerful statement of Connecticut College’s commitment to undergraduate learning,” says Christopher Stewart, who, at the request of the College, reviewed the plans before construction began. He is on the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University and is the author of the book “The Academic Library Building in the Digital Age: A Study of Construction, Planning, and Design of New Library Space.” “Planning considerations, including significant increases in learning space, multiuse areas and natural light, were informed by best practices in contemporary academic library design.”

The new Charles E. Shain Library — with its beautiful spaces, clean design and new functionality — brings substantial new energy to the Connecticut College campus and community. And it provides current and coming generations of students with an environment that encourages exploration and learning, creativity and collaboration, discovery and achievement.

“This noble stone-and-steel bookmobile is no bland noodle factory to us, of course, to this band of readers — we few, we happy few,” Vonnegut said at the dedication of the original building. How much happier and numerous we are now.

May 17, 2015