By SUSAN JONES
The renovated first and second floors of Hillman Library opened earlier this month and, if last Tuesday afternoon was any indication, students are already feeling at home in the new spaces.
SCHENLEY DRIVE WORK
Part of the sidewalk and two lanes of Schenley Drive in front of Hillman Library and Posvar Hall are currently closed for a project unrelated to the library renovations. Excavation work there for new chilled water, stormwater and electrical service lines will improve reliability of the University’s chilled water system, help capture and reuse local stormwater, and upgrade electrical service within campus, a University spokesperson said. This project is set to finish in mid-March.
Even on the second day of the semester, the chairs, cubicles, couches and other areas were bustling with groups and individuals getting down to work. Most of the furniture is moveable and can be reconfigured as needed.
The two redone floors are “so much more open and (have) so much more light, and there's a lot more space for students,” said Jeff Wisniewski, director of communications and web services for the University Library System.
Wisniewski said in his 30 years at Pitt he’s seen “an amazing change in the way that the library is used and the degree to which the students really view the library as absolutely integral to their life on campus.”
Several years ago, he said, the library was only crowded during midterms and finals, and now, it’s “absolutely packed from the first day of the term to the last.” He credits this to the higher academic quality of the student body and the changing ways instructors are asking students to provide output for classes, such as videos, digital maps, 3D models and more.
“The library has positioned itself, I think smartly, to be able to support these changing pedagogy and the changing formats of scholarly output,” he said.
The differences in the building are noticeable even before you get inside. A new ADA accessible ramp leads from the sidewalk along Forbes Avenue to a temporary entrance on that side of the library. The ground floor is now being redone as part of the fourth and final phase of the Hillman Library Reinvention, and the entrances on the Schenley Drive side of the building are closed.
The newly reopened floors don’t have much space devoted to books, which Wisniewski said is the trend in many academic libraries.
“We moved significant portions to the collection to Thomas Boulevard at the very beginning of this process,” Wisniewski said. “That was a reflection of the fact that we wanted to have more space for students, and we wanted more space for experiential learning — like the Open Lab (on the first floor) and the Text and Context Lab on the third floor of the library — which is also then a reflection of the fact that so much information and materials are available online.”
Instead of long rows of books, there are small, moveable bookshelves, which will hold rotating parts of the collection that will be curated by librarians, and perhaps by specific classes, instructors or student organizations. These could be related to what one class is studying or be topical, such as one focusing on Ukraine now, or tied to a holiday, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
A new café in the back of the first floor is larger and has more seating. The café is operated by Saxbys, which employs Pitt students as managers.
The Open Lab, which previously had a small space on the library’s ground floor, has been greatly expanded in one corner of the first floor. The lab, a collaboration with the Center for Teaching and Learning, buys and trains on emerging technologies in teaching and then works with instructors, mostly, on ways to integrate these technologies into their teaching and learning, Wisniewski said.
The lab has augmented and virtual reality equipment, laser-cutting machines and 3D printers. Wisniewski said the expanded space will give the lab the opportunity to do more and to adapt as technology changes.
The final phase of the library’s transformation includes the ground floor, the bathrooms and elevators in the core of the building and a new glass entryway on the corner facing the Cathedral of Learning. This part of the project is expected to be finished in December 2024.
A University spokesperson said the work on the building’s core “will be phased to minimize the number of elevators and restrooms under construction at any one given time, ensuring restrooms and an elevator remain accessible.”
The redone ground floor will include more open study space plus more group study areas. Wisniewski said the library hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand for group study space. When the full library project is complete, there will be more than 40 reservable spaces.
Other features planned for the ground floor:
An expanded one-button studio
A large black box video production space, with sound and light controls
A sound-isolated recording space, larger than what was previously there
Post-production spaces, where users can do sound and video editing
“The idea is that we are going to have this whole suite of media production spaces that will accommodate everything from walk-up use to curricularly integrated work where somebody can create audio or video objects from conception to creation to post-production,” Wisniewski said.
The new glass entryway will be around 50 feet tall, Charles Alcorn, of Pitt’s Office of Planning, Design, Real Estate, told a development activities meeting in September. The design is supposed to “mimic a stacking of books going up to each level,” he said.
The plan involves eliminating the main staircase on the Schenley Drive side and the two “moats” on either side of it. The new entry space will be over the moat closest to Forbes Avenue and an outdoor terrace will be built on the other side. The entry also will have a green roof with an outdoor gathering space. The ground floor entrance on Schenley Drive will be ADA accessible.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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