The James B. Hunt Jr. Library has been open since January, but it remains a work in progress.
The Hunt Library makes the latest technology available to students and faculty, but the final touches are still being made to some of the most innovative spaces in the new library on Centennial Campus. The Game Lab, with its 20×5-foot MicroTile display screen, is now open four hours each evening for students wanting to try their hand at the latest video games and is expected to be open around-the-clock soon. The Teaching and Visualization Lab and the Creativity Studio are scheduled to open this summer, although the spaces already have been used by a couple of different groups.
The challenge, says Maurice York (right), head of information technology for NCSU Libraries, has been to make sure library patrons can easily make use of all the new high-tech tools.
“We’ve got a lot of advanced technology in the building, but if the right human interface isn’t there to make it easy to engage with, it just becomes a big pile of hardware,” says York. “With any of these spaces, no matter what the level of technology, you should be able to walk in, push some buttons, and get to work. You should not have to have a secret handshake or three months of training, so that this building really is in the hands of the students.”
Making such cutting-edge technology readily available to students is at the heart of what the Hunt Library is about. Students and professors can even check out some items, ranging from iPads to credit-card sized computers that plug into a television.
“It’s a crazy idea,” York says. “But we know they want to get their hands on stuff. They’re not happy with a passive presentation of technology, because it’s not that interesting. They’re not here to learn how to use a computer or how to use a display. They’re here to learn how to engineer the next generation of that stuff. So if they can’t get their hands on it and mess with it, we haven’t really done our job.”
York has been pleased with the initial response to the new library, which is featured in the spring issue of NC State magazine. He says the library is full most nights and weekends and that students have occasionally complained about not being able to find a seat. He says the library’s group study rooms have been extremely popular, and that students have taken advantage of the display screens and other technology available in each of the study rooms.
One of York’s next challenges is to find a way to get some of the technological features of the Hunt Library into D.H. Hill Library. “It’s easy to get to Centennial at night and on weekends, but there’s an enormous center of gravity on North Campus, and we’ve got to be able to bring these services back up there,” he says.
The automated bookBot at the Hunt Library, with its capacity for 2 million books, has freed up space in D.H. Hill that had been devoted to the stacks. One of those spaces is being remade into a visualization room, much like the visualization lab at Hunt Library. Those spaces — York calls them black box theaters — will allow students and professors to rethink how they do presentations and other projects. “It’s a very flexible, dynamic learning environment,” York says.
From there, York looks forward to seeing where their imagination will take them. He takes comfort in knowing that they won’t be limited by inadequate technology.
“It’s just so rewarding,” he says, “to be able to listen to what people want to do and say, ‘Yeah, we can do that,’ and know that you’ve got a space for them.”