GVSU’s new library designed to be ‘a really big sandbox’ for students

GVL / Robert Mathews
Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons under construction.

GVL / Robert Mathews Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons under construction.

Sarah Hillenbrand

The almost futuristic design of the new Mary Idema Pew library is no accident, dean of Grand Valley State University libraries told the Student Senate last week. Speaking directly to students for the first time about what the library will offer, Lee Van Orsdel said everything about the building is meant to draw students in.

“The building design is meant to be stunning and catch your attention,” Van Orsdel said. “It feels majestic and large when you’re inside, but it’s very open.”

Everything in the building was designed with the students in mind, she added.

“I compare it to a shopping mall where everything is in one place,” Van Orsdel said. “We want you to be in charge of your learning.”

Inside the library, there will be a café – part of a Chicago franchise and the first of its kind to be opened in Michigan. There will also be a space for peer coaches and research consultants to help students with assignments.

In addition, the library will host a new speech lab that will have two practice rooms where students can record themselves speaking and play it back, or even have peer coaches listen and give advice for improvement.

The new library will also be stocked with 1,500 seats, three times as many in the Zumberge Library right now. There will be experimental seating and rolling tables so students can set up furniture the way they want to, making it easier for groups to meet to work on projects or have study sessions. Some study rooms have floor-to-ceiling whiteboards instead of walls.

“We’re trying to give you a really big sandbox to play in,” Van Orsdel said.

The whole library was designed to give students the space they need to comfortably study and work on assignments. The dean said administrators observed students in the current library and noticed they don’t have enough space to spread out, and only two people can fit to study at a four-person table.

In the new library, there will be oversized tables, power within 2.5 feet of the tabletops, portable partitions and whiteboards, an indoor garden, outdoor patios and countless other new features.

“The university has not forced us to compromise on anything we think the students should have,” Van Orsdel said. “The defining idea is to manage your own learning in a stimulating environment.”

Student Senate guest speaker Juan Carlos Rodriguez, who is the associate dean of Technology and Information Services in University Libraries, said the technology in the building is very advanced, and the library as a whole is the first of its kind. For example, there is a place where students can hook their computers up to a “hockey puck,” and, with a push of a button, their desktops appear on a large screen so the entire group can view it at once.

Rodriguez said there will also be whiteboards and interactive large displays throughout the building.

In addition, the university is working on technology that allows students to see how many computers are available at a given time and on what floors. “There will be about 200 computers in the library, and we’re going to have wireless printing from any mobile device, as well as color and black and white printing,” he said.

The university is also looking to have a LEED platinum rating for managing power in the building. There will be sensors on the stacks so that the lights are only on when students are in them. “Grand Valley has just outdone itself in this vision,” Van Orsdel said.

The senators were given the chance to ask questions at the end of the presentation, and those who did all agreed that the new library, scheduled to open in July 2013, will be a big asset to GVSU.

To learn more about the Mary Idema Pew Library or to contact the Student Senate, go to gvsu.edu/studentsenate.

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