GVSU opens state-of-the-art Mary Idema Pew Library


The $65-million Mary Idema Pew Library at GVSU has five floors, 1,500 seats and a 600,000-capacity book retrieval system. Courtesy GVSU

The new Mary Idema Pew Library on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus is much more than book stacks. It’s a state-of-the-art facility that provides learners with endless options in seating, collaboration, technology, real world experience and more.

“Librarians from other universities across the state have said we have the best academic library in the country,” said Library Dean Lee Van Orsdel.

The $65 million, 153,000-square-foot library includes 1,500 seats, 19 group study rooms, 150,000 volumes of open stacks, an automated book storage and retrieval system with 600,000 book capacity, 94 lab computers, two reading rooms for quiet study, four outdoor seating areas, a 21-foot-long fireplace and a Knowledge Market that provides peer-to-peer research, writing and presentation consultation — and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what is available among the library’s five floors.

Van Orsdel said that the library is designed to provide students with options, allowing them to cater to their individual study needs at any given time, which is why, for instance, the library offers 29 different types of chairs.

“We are trying to subtly change the way the library feels, from where we are programming what they do to putting the tools in their hands and in their path and then they get to make decision about how they manage their assignments,” she explained.

The design allows for more of a real world experience and the development of skill sets students will need in their careers that they might not be getting in the classroom.

“We designed this whole building thinking about the skills that students need when they get to the workplace that go beyond just the content expertise they learn with their major in college,” Van Orsdel said. “Things like communication, speaking, literacy about information — what information is reliable and what is not — all those kinds of skills.”

Where libraries of the past were nearly silent spaces where whispers and individual study ruled the day, Van Orsdel said that won’t be the case in the new library. The first two floors of the Mary Idema Pew Library have been designed for collaboration, group study and even socializing.

Once students reach the third, fourth and fifth floors, the east and west wings offer spaces for both the solitary learner and those who might be collaborating with a group or working in pairs.

GVSU worked with Steelcase to adopt some of the company’ top-of-the-line meeting room technology that will provide students with real world experience.

The Steelcase product Media:scape allows a group of students to sit down with their laptops, each tethered to a single device, and then — with the tap of a button — the users take turns displaying their laptop screens on a central monitor for the whole group to see.

There is also an app that will be available soon allowing students to reserve the library’s meeting rooms up to two weeks in advance using their cell phones.

Other technology includes the impressive automated book storage and retrieval system, which spans two floors underground and can hold up to 600,000 books. At a cost of $1.2 million dollars, the book vault has provided the university with a great value in several ways.

“If what was in that storage vault had been put in fixed shelving in the library, it would have taken 60,000 square feet of this building, and it’s only 150,000 square feet,” Van Orsdel said. “So by putting it in the way that we did, it is immediately accessible, but it allowed us to use a lot of space for students.

“There is a cost associated with every book, and it’s not an insubstantial cost. If it’s up there on the shelf and you are cooling and heating an open space, you are eating up a hunk of money. Here it is dense. It has its own cooling system so it’s very efficient and it’s good for the books. It’s the densest possible way to store because you are storing by size, but yet it’s completely discoverable by users.”

Van Orsdel noted how much technology has changed the structure and function of the library, noting that students can search books more effectively electronically than they could with the card catalogue. Therefore, open stacks are less necessary.

“Browsing is still very much part of the disciplinary tradition of English, philosophy, religion and maybe even history, so we made a concession to the need to browse by having about 150,000 books in an open stack for browsing on these three floors.”

In the future, some of those stacks may be relocated to the vault to make more space for students.

The building also is equipped with electronic kiosks that provide several pieces of information, from the current time and outside weather to which floors have open computer stations and meeting rooms. Eventually, there will be short videos playing on these screens with content developed by faculty in all disciplines. Students will be able to pause and, in a few minutes, take in knowledge from areas of study they might not come into contact with in their coursework.

“We are challenging our faculty to think, ‘What is there about your discipline that a student going out into the world would be wiser, a better citizen, or simply more aware if they knew.’ You aren’t going to get them as a major — what do they need to know?

“Some of it’s provocative, some is a learning moment, and some might be mediated to discuss something, like business ethics for example.”

Students whose future careers depend on keeping up with all the latest gadgets and software can enjoy “play” time in the Technology Showcase room.

“They have a person who is going to be scouting new technologies and bringing them in for students to have some hands-on play time with, just as part of that technology literacy,” she said.

So far, Van Orsdel said the library is working as it was envisioned, with students easily adapting to and utilizing the spaces in the ways in which they were intended. And, the new library is a much more popular campus destination than the old library was.

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