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Grand Valley State University (GVSU) envisioned a library that was inspired by the needs of today’s students and the evolving skills they would require for the rest of their lives. Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons—a true shift in library creation—is designed to connect the library more closely to student learning and success. So how do we design a library that meets the need for browsable materials with a desirable study and collaboration space?

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Seats

Every student can find the right spot for themselves with over 31 different types of indoor or outdoor seating.

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Book capacity in an automated storage and retrieval system

Resources in the catalogue can be delivered to the service desk in under a minute.

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Of interior spaces lit by daylight

One of many strategies that tuned the building to its site and helped the library achieve LEED Platinum.

Before
After

Removing the book

We realized that students needed more areas for both group and individual study, and the ubiquitous library stacks were just taking up too much room. An Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) was the solution—it was designed to house up to 600,000 volumes in a 40-foot high vault and occupies only 6% of the square footage needed for conventional shelving. However, printed books will never go out of style, so 150,000 select volumes are still housed in open stacks on three levels directly above the ASRS.

Transcript of the video follows
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<p>Picture students collaborating, researching, planning. Wherever they are in the library—or all over the campus—when they need to grab a book, they can look it up in the online catalogue and request it from the library’s Automated Storage and Retrieval System.<b></b></p> <p>A crane arm will retrieve a bin full of books and deliver it up top. It only takes about a minute to go from storage to pick up shelf: where the students will find their book waiting for them.</p>
Transcript of the video follows
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<p>Lee: If students really do learn only a small part of what they learn in class, what is the university doing to build environments that support learning when class is over?</p> <p>Janice: Majority of libraries are filled with books and stacks and more static space. This library is completely flipped on its head.</p> <p>Tod: A lot of the ambitions for this building were about it not being, “This is what’s going to happen in this building.”</p> <p>Lee: I used the Great European train stations as a model of people coming into a space and seeing many destinations on the board. To me that was very nostalgic to the journey of a student when they’re on their own learning and as we dived more deeply into what a model like that might look like. We started out with one kind of off the wall idea I brought with me and then we deepened that into something that turned into this. It was an amazing experience of collaboration.</p> <p>Tod: This notion of activity and vibrancy and gleaning knowledge and, “What does that look like?”</p> <p>Lee: What kind of building and space did that call for? That if we accepted that the dream was a good dream, the ideas were good, but there was no model. There was no other library that was doing this so we couldn’t go somewhere and see how it was already done.</p> <p>Tod: We would draw and she would say, “No, I want to see book bags and I want to see pajamas.” Because that’s really what she was in her head. She really saw that this thing was a part of their campus. When we understood those really subtle things it was able to unfold a place for people to lean back.</p> <p>Lee: It was amazing to me how [00:02:00] it worked. It was a leap of faith at the beginning there’s just no question. On their part and on ours, I think. It took both of us to get to this building.</p> <p>Thomas: We wanted to create place and space that took into account the changing dynamics of the learning environment. We wanted to create a space that had technology at its core but also a space that would use technology to create the relationships between students and faculty and staff.</p> <p>Lee: We tried to align the actual environment of the academic library with the kind of environment people choose in all the other walks of their life. We’ve tried to build a whole matrix here where the students can literally tailor this environment to what they need at the moment. And it can accommodate and include all of the habits and the devices that they use to organize their life all the rest of the time. I think that’s the biggest change we’ve made. Noise here is not forbidden. We have quiet places but we have places that are not quiet at all. We let the students sort themselves out around those different spectra and I think that’s going to be a very successful model.</p> <p>James: We decided to place this structure right in the middle of a pedestrian diagonal that existed on campus. You cannot walk around this building. You can but you can’t ignore it as you walk past it. You can walk through it.</p> <p>Tod: &nbsp;We were looking to find any way to get a student into the library and we weren’t shy about it. We brought a cafe into it, we brought the knowledge market and the multipurpose room, the gallery. All of these things were about ways to start to pull people into the space so that they could learn that the library has a place. It has some way that you can learn about things better than from Google.</p> <p>Thomas: They understand the new model of education: problem solving, applied education, knowing the content, sure, but then being able to not just [00:04:00] retrieve it but to use it.</p> <p>Janice: I think what this library does is it creates an environment for that sort of collaboration and that practice of working with others to occur. So that students aren’t in their dorm rooms doing all of their research online at their computer in solitary. Instead they’re coming to a place where they can be with others to learn how to work as a group and that’s something that I think employers are looking for.</p> <p>Lee: We had always known there was a rhythm to the semester. You’d have slower times and busier times and you could pretty much predict when those were going to be based on the academic calendar. What we had not given enough attention to was the fact that there’s a quotidian rhythm as well, a daily rhythm. It starts off with people being very quiet, very alone, during the day. They tend to be studying or reading. Then after supper, it seemed like, around 6 or 7 o’clock, there was just a flood of people in the building and we would see different in behaviors entirely. Students who wanted to study in community but alone, that alone together kind of phenomenon. Then we also saw groups form and split apart and this went on all night long. It was just this constant nomadic like movement of them with each other in all kinds of formations.</p> <p>Tim: The reaction has been exciting to see. Students walk into this building and they feel smarter as they say, “It’s the wow factor.” It’s, “I want to be here.” They feel very comfortable in this environment. They want to go learn here.</p> <p>Eli: It’s just really incredible how they brought so much of being a student into one building. It’s not just a place to find a book.</p> <p>Lauren: &nbsp;It’s more of a collaboration space. It’s so cool because it’s so of the future and I think this is really where libraries are going.</p> <p>Eli: It’s just encouraging to see all these people out there that want to see us succeed.</p> <p>Thomas: You build a structure [00:06:00]. You have great architectural features to this building but what’s going on inside is the key to success.</p> <p>Lee: I remember a football player walked in the building and we overheard him say something like, “Learning just became sexy.” That’s the European train station moment. The moment when expectations rise and energy is there and you’re totally in line with what you need to be doing. There’s something magical about that moment when you transcend the humdrum of, “I have to go do my homework.” Instead, what they’re doing is they’re moving into an environment that was designed for them in a hundred ways that they can tailor in dozens of ways to their own needs at the moment. They can talk, they can be quiet, they can take a nap, they can sip a latte. That is experiencing a library which is a very different thing from simply going to one to do your homework.</p> <p>Tim: A lot of times some of your best ideas come when you’re not really in the act of studying. You’re actually pausing and reflecting and all of a sudden you have that ‘Aha moment’.</p> <p>Lee: Probably the most common phrase we have heard, “Do it all. I want to move in. I want to live here.” They’re not just talking about 7 in the morning till 2 in the morning when we’re open. They really want to move in here. They think this space has everything they need to be successful and to be comfortable. That’s a tremendous tribute to the project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
We designed different zones for different uses: monk-like spaces for no distractions and high-energy zones for groups. The noise starts at the ground level and gradually drops in volume as you ascend.

The face of the learning commons

The building is sheathed in natural stonework, echoing a deep appreciation for Grand Valley’s architectural context. The stone rebuilds the lost characteristics of the location: a once heavily wooded site cascading through deep ravines to the banks of the Grand River.

With a 40-foot glass curtain wall, the library looks out onto the campus—and the campus looks back inside.

During the day, the building is filled with natural light through the massive windows and a number of punched windows on other exterior walls. At night, the building becomes a beacon, a transparent hive of activity that draws users inside.

CAMPUS IMPRESSIONS

“So lucky to work in such a beautiful building”

@PatrickRoth34

“Service desks #gvsulibrary great to see these. Approachable not fortress like! #rethinkit15”

@AULibraryDean

“The only thing I can think of that would make the #gvsulibrary better is if they had elevator music playing in the bathrooms”

@tessbradley_

“The best place to study ever is next to a warm fire. #gvsulibrary”

@kelseygen917

“Writing, research, and speech help until 12 am? I love my library #gvsulibrary”

@AudTap

“Went to the @GVTechShowcase @gvsulib for the first time today! So much cool stuff to play with and explore. 10/10 would recommend. #GVCAP105”

@MrDrStiles

“Go for the studying, stay for the sunsets.”

@emily_cramps

“#ReThinkIt15 “The way people are in buildings has changed, so buildings need to change.”

@gvsulib
Complex HVAC systems, automated building controls, careful siting, a green roof, and more helped us achieve a LEED Platinum certification.

We’re better together

Our work begins at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships. With a long-term commitment to the people and places we serve, we have the unique ability to connect to projects on a personal level and advance the quality of life in communities across the globe.

Janice Suchan
Principal
Janice Suchan
Principal

The biggest testament to the project’s success was hearing a student say “learning just got cool” when first walking into the building.… Read More

Tod Stevens
Principal
Tod Stevens
Principal

What an amazing privilege—to participate in the conversation on rethinking what a library is—for a new millennium!… Read More

Michael Hopkins
Designer
Michael Hopkins
Designer

The Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons is less about brick and mortar and more about encouraging patron to patron and patron to librarian relationships.… Read More

Patrick Calhoun
Senior Associate
Patrick Calhoun
Senior Associate

1,500 seats. Tech. Study alcoves. Tea. Peer mentors. And books! It’s about the spaces and resources to build skills and create knowledge.… Read More

Joe Mitra
Senior Associate
Joe Mitra
Senior Associate

An exciting project with challenging goals to design and develop a high performance enclosure that was energy-efficient, durable, and sustainable.… Read More

Joe Lapinski
Associate
Joe Lapinski
Associate

GVSU required rigor and care from the design team that spurred a great deal of professional development for everyone involved.… Read More

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