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Library upgrade planned

Amanda Michaels | Friday, October 27, 2006

Keeping with the tide of technological improvements that has recently swept the University, the Office of Information Technologies (OIT) is now looking to give the Hesburgh Library computer cluster a major facelift.

In conjunction with University Libraries staff, OIT is making plans to move the cluster – currently tucked away on the building’s second floor – to an open area on the first floor, directly to the left of the current Reference Desk.

The move, however, will mean a lot more than just that.

“Based on the planning stage so far, we wouldn’t just be moving what’s there,” said Nigel Butterwick, University librarian and associate director for User Services. “We’d be effectively opening a much improved facility on the first floor.”

Butterwick explained that while the physical area allotted for the new cluster is not larger than that of its current location, the types of technology and study spaces available will be far more varied. Plans include not only the traditional desktop computers and workspaces, but also casual chairs with foldout desks for laptop use.

Group use is also being emphasized in the design, with the addition of desks at which several students can work together, and an area with a data projector and screen where groups can practice presentations.

“This is an experimental set-up to some degree, because we’ll be wanting to see how the different furniture arrangements are used, whether students find the informal or formal desks more useful and whether they use the presentation area,” Butterwick said.

He also explained that while current plans feature an open design – as opposed to the currently enclosed cluster – the potential noise of groups working together has been accounted for.

“The way we have designed it, the nearer the part of the facility is near to Reference desk, the more noisy it’s likely to be,” he said. “So the quieter part of the cluster [without the group study and presentation areas] would be towards the windows, which will still have the traditional individual study seating.”

The cluster will also feature another technological step forward on OIT’s part – the substitution of laptops instead of desktops for many of the University’s computing offerings. Students will be able to borrow laptops for use in the cluster or the greater library, according to Butterwick, allowing them greater mobility than the current desktop-only facility provides.

“We know a lot of students have laptops of their own, but even they use the clusters from time to time,” Butterwick said. “So for the sake of convenience and innovation, we want to make laptops a major way of providing access to University computers.”

Chair of the Student Senate Committee on Academic Affairs Jim Grace has seen the early plans, and said he considers the improvements to the technology and study spaces beneficial to students.

“A lot of students don’t want to carry their laptops all over campus, so an opportunity to borrow one to work with at the library is a positive thing,” Grace said. “And, especially for business majors, a place to practice presentations will be nice.”

Butterwick called the project “a meeting of the minds” between OIT and University Libraries staff, with talks between the two groups starting around a year ago during which both agreed “the current cluster was dated in appearance.”

And while no construction timeline has been set, he said he would be “disappointed” if they hadn’t garnered sufficient funding for it by summer 2007 – though none has been raised so far, and he could not provide a cost estimate.

Nevertheless, Butterwick was positive about the project, describing it as a chance for the library staff and OIT to work together to provide students with valuable resources.

“From our perspective, we see this as an opportunity to work side by side with OIT, so that students using this facility will be able to get reference help from reference librarians, who will be working right alongside the cluster’s OIT staff,” Butterwick said. “So it’ll hopefully be like a one-stop shop of assistance.”