Ohio State U.’s renovated library makes three buildings feel like one. (Ohio State U. photos)
You can consider your new library building a success if Scott Bennett has nice things to say about it. Mr. Bennett, a former librarian at Yale University, is one of the best-known consultants to colleges and librarians on library design.
In a casual conversation recently, he brought up the new library at Ohio State University, which he had just toured.
“It is stupendous. It really is,” he said.
The library just opened after a three-year, $109-million renovation that attempted to blend the 1913 building with its two additions, which were added decades later.
“They didn’t work together very well, and they really felt like three libraries,” Mr. Bennett said. Now “one of my strongest feelings about this library is that it is one building. It is that in part because of a thoroughgoing internal renovation that makes it look like it was built all at one time.”
A central feature of the library — one that created an imposing design problem — is a book-stack tower that loomed at the center of the building. The designers, Gund Partnership, turned the problem into an asset.
The stacks tower is now visible to visitors.
At the annual conference of the Society for College and University Planning, in Chicago a couple of years ago, we at Buildings & Grounds saw the renderings of the building, which showed that part of the stack tower would be perforated and encased in glass. The design would both open the stacks up from within and highlight the library’s central feature — the books — to people who visit.
Mr. Bennett said the design for the book-stack tower was “just stunning,” if a bit “precious.”
“It could be in the way of everything,” he said, “and it’s not because of the way that they admitted light through skylights. Well, skylights hardly says it — it’s a glass roof over two huge atriums, and the place is just flooded with natural light.”
Mr. Bennett had only a few criticisms. There should be more space for displays of student work, he said. “Especially in entry spaces that establish the identity and purpose of a building, such exhibits should be central to, indeed dominant, in saying the building is about student learning and is ‘owned’ by students rather than by librarians and their ‘stuff.’”
He also thought that staff offices were too isolated and might hurt the learning experience. “The expectation is that readers will seek out library staff when needed,” he said. “A different expectation, more appropriate to learning space, is that librarians (reference and instructional staff in particular) will actively look for ways to work as partners in learning with readers.”