Library Brings a New Vision of Learning

By Jane Howell

Interior of the library

As you walk in the front doors of Oxford’s new Library and Academic Commons, the first thing you notice is the view—from the front straight through the back of the building and out huge floor-to-ceiling windows on each side.

That view—bold, expansive, and bright—represents the shared vision that made the building a reality. And even though it was fifteen years in the making, the library is the result of fortunate timing, giving Oxford a resource designed for today and years to come.

Associate Dean and College Librarian Kitty McNeill 85G and a team of visionaries including Dean Stephen Bowen; Fund-Raising Committee Chair Hugh Tarbutton Jr. 84OX; and dedicated alumni, faculty, and students brought the project to fruition. “The fifteen years was a benefit,” says McNeill. “It allowed us to make choices that we would not have made earlier, incorporating changes in technology and in the ways students learn.”

The students of 2013, in contrast to those of the 1990s when the library was in its early planning, are wired, collaborative learners who need flexible learning spaces with room to spread out and plug in.

Technology also changed. Books aren’t the only focus; libraries now offer computers, wireless access, and technology-rich learning spaces. Digital offerings have vastly expanded, moving journals, books, and resources online, and reducing the need for shelves.

The new library efficiently accommodates today’s students and technology. The project renovated the old library and added a 10,000-square-foot front addition. An academic commons resides in this new section and is an open space for individual and collaborative learning. iMacs are lined up on long tables. Comfortable chairs are arranged in groups throughout the floor, as well as in nooks for studying. There are two research consultation rooms and an adjoining patio for group learning. Wireless Internet is available throughout.

Also on the first floor, visitors can find a special collections room, a living-room-style reading area, a cafe and vending space, an exhibit gallery, and a catering kitchen for events.

Upstairs, a variety of seating—complete with built-in outlets—overlooks the academic commons. Also there are two large technology-enriched classrooms, five tutor-support rooms, and four group-study rooms with large-screen displays and laptop connections. The study rooms include tables with whiteboard surfaces, so paperless students can write out problems on the spot.

The print collection of more than 89,000 volumes is housed in compact shelving, which can contract or expand for browsing. “Because of the compact shelving,” says McNeill, “we’re able to gain back study and classroom spaces.”

In addition to the computers stationed throughout, MacBook Pro laptops and iPads can be checked out at the front desk, as can more than 1,300 DVDs, best sellers, e-books, and cameras, video equipment, and digital recorders. Users can access the entire Emory University library collection as well as online databases, journals, and other digital resources through the library’s website.

The style is contemporary Oxford. The thirty-foot ceiling above the academic commons features Georgia wood, and the entrance flooring and grand stairs are Lithonia granite, the same used in some of the oldest buildings on campus. The colors, furniture, and lighting are quirky and modern, chosen with student input. Outside, the library coexists visually with its older neighbors, Phi Gamma Hall and the Oxford Chapel. It’s closer to the Quad now and fits in so well that it takes you a minute to realize that its classic lines comprise new windows and green construction.

Exterior of the library

When Tarbutton first entered the new building, he reflected on those who influenced the project. “I was thinking about Mrs. Elizer and Mrs. Gregory and wondering if we had built something they would have been proud of,” he said. “I also thought about how hard the committee had worked, and the wonderful guidance and encouragement I had gotten during my short time on the project from people like Kitty, Pierce Cline 47OX, Joe Edwards 54OX 56B 58MBA, Judy Greer, and Bob Chappell 56OX 58B, 68MBA, just to name a few.”

And what do students think? McNeill says see for yourself—particularly at 10:30 at night. “The students are using every nook and cranny.”

According to Katherine Couch 14OX, “This new library is a place that students want to make a central part of their day. It gives us not only the technology and research materials we need, it gives us useful spaces for classrooms and collaboration. . . . And it gives us restful spaces for quiet, personal reflection.”

The next time you’re walking through the Oxford Quad, step inside and enjoy the view.

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