Major project impacts campus hub
You can tell before you enter the building that massive changes are underway in Levitt Library. Heavy machinery is parked outside. What was the main entrance is now an inaccessible plywood covered portal. Concrete, benches and landscaping have been torn out. Stepping inside the building is a shock -- most noticeably, there are fewer books. Flooring, ceilings, and some walls have been removed. Construction is underway and will continue through the summer months.
Thanks to a $2.25 million dollar grant from the federal government, virtually every inch of the building will be transformed over the next five years, not just cosmetically but functionally. As students’ needs have changed, the square, brick building in the center of campus must change, too. The library will morph from simply a place to find information to a collaborative learning space that offers the latest in research technology and student support services. Even the name will be modified: Levitt Library will become the Levitt Academic Resource Center (LARC).
Leading the way are Brenda Sikes, Leanna Hawley, and Dr. Trissa Cox. These passionate educators have a daunting task-- to not only provide what students need to be successful today but to set up the LARC in such a way that it can continually transform in the future, adapting to students’ needs as technology and the job market evolve.
“For many years, a library's value was measured by the number of books and periodicals it contained and York's librarians did a fabulous job meeting that standard,” explained Sikes. “Today, academic value is based on quality and access...Like other libraries that have undertaken this process, we expect to see an increase in the use of physical books because students will have confidence in the quality of the resources.”
“Some people are calling us ‘The Cheese Movers,’” jokes Dr. Cox referring to the modern workplace parable about change Who Moved My Cheese? As more and more resources have moved online, Levitt Library has seen a decline in student use through the years. When the cheese movers are done, it's going to be the hottest spot on campus.
Inviting Spaces, Improved Services
By the time students return to campus this fall, much of the structural and some of the cosmetic work in the LARC will be complete. The main entrance will move to the Northwest corner of the building and will be at ground-level, improving accessibility over the previous split-level entry. Eventually, a new elevator will be installed, so that all floors of the library will be easily accessible.
“The first floor will be the noisy section of the library,” explains Sikes, pointing out where an IT Helpdesk will be as well as collaborative workspaces for larger student groups.
The second floor will be a medium-level noise zone for peer tutoring, small group collaboration, and classroom space. Where once stood rows and rows of bookshelves will now be mostly open, modular space that can be easily configured for different uses. A new writing and research lab will also be housed on the second floor, where students can find assistance from staff, faculty, and trained student mentors on crafting essays and research papers. “We want this to be a resource for all students,” explained Hawley, who will oversee the lab, tutoring services, and developmental classes (pre-100 level classes for students who require extra support in reading and math) as Director of the Teaching and Learning Commons. Since most classes have a writing requirement of some kind, a writing and research lab “is a way to open the door for all students into the different services we will have available,” said Hawley.
The second floor will also house a maker-space, with resources such as die-cut machine, laminator, 3-D printer, and other equipment and tools students may need for class projects.
The lower level of the building will be the quiet zone, housing books and a computer lab/testing center. Faculty members were involved in selecting the volumes that remain in the library collection, making sure that the most relevant works are still available for student research. At the heart of the collection are religion and philosophy materials, as less of this content is available via digital sources and is often accessed by students in their core curriculum Bible classes. Archive materials previously located in the lower level have been relocated to Hulitt Hall.
A sprinkler system will be added for safety and bathrooms will be remodeled to increase accessibility.
Throughout the building, new furniture and lighting will transform the look and feel of the space. The hope is that the LARC will provide not only the resources but also the environment that students will flock to. The look they’re going for is “industrial chic.” The team is evaluating energy-efficient and attractive lighting options and saying goodbye to the copious amounts of wood paneling in the library decor. Some of the mid-century ‘retro’ fixtures and details will remain as a nod to the building’s 1969 origin. There will be more emphasis on natural lighting, as well. “Every time we pull down a wall or remove a set of shelves, we see something different and we have so many new ideas,” said Sikes. “It’s very exciting.”
As the Director of the Information Commons, Cox’s job will be to make the LARC the hub of learning on campus. She is working to better integrate digital and physical resources, so that a single search can reveal all that a student would need for a project. She will also work with faculty to incorporate experiences and resources in the LARC into every class. Expanded access to digital resources will be a major leap forward. “The grant is going to give us the capability to get into some digital resources for students that we couldn’t access before because we just didn’t have the funding,” said Cox.”The grant is going to allow us to do some things that the library staff has dreamed about for years.”
Funding the Future
The Title III Strengthening Institutions Program that is providing the bulk of the funds for this transformation is a highly competitive grant opportunity intended to help colleges improve and strengthen academic quality, institutional management, and fiscal stability. This is the second time York College has received Title III SIP grant funding in recent years. In 2009 York College was awarded $2 million to create a student success center, renovate classrooms and upgrade technology campus wide. Improvements at that time included a complete remodel of the lower level of Middlebrook Hall, transforming a 1940s era cafeteria into three technology-enhanced classrooms.
Sikes is the grant writer that secured both of these Title III funding opportunities for York College. For the duration of the current grant, she will serve as the project director, providing documentation and reporting necessary for the funding. Sikes is also working closely with the administrative leadership team at YC to make sure that all of the changes that happen in the LARC are in line with the overall goals and needs of the organization.
For Sikes, Hawley, and Cox, the possibilities created through this grant, from greater retention and recruiting to better-trained graduates to a more dynamic academic ecosystem on campus, is worth all of the work.
The process of implementing this grant has been “daunting, but exciting,” said Sikes.
“Libraries are no longer contained within the walls of a building. Helping students learn how to think critically and access quality information is more important now than it ever has been,” said Hawley.
“Learning is about to come alive for students outside of the classroom,” added Cox. “We’re not looking back.”
While the federal grant is an enormous and unexpected blessing for campus, funding from private donors is also needed to complete the project. Title III SIP will provide $2.25M of this $2.62M project. Those that are interested in helping YC take this next step into the future can contact Brent Magner, vice president for advancement, at email@example.com or (402)363-5636.
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