A Well-Wired Library Bronx Community College’s New North Hall and Library Blends Early 20th Century Classic Design with 21st Century Information Technology

September 18, 2012, Bronx, New York — With the opening of the North Hall and Library on the campus of Bronx Community College of the City University of New York, the Bronx borough can boast of a library that bristles with the most modern means of accumulating and distributing information.  The building welcomed its first visitors earlier this month at the start of the fall semester. The official ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for Friday, September 21 at 9.a.m. North Hall and Library was designed by Robert A. M. Stern Architects, LLP. Ismael Leyva, Architects, PC, are the project’s Associate Architects.

Gould Memorial Library is one of 22 oil paintings created by Bronx artist Daniel Hauben for permanent installation in Bronx Community College’s new North Hall and Library. The new building was designed by R.A.Stern Architects, LLP, and complements architect Stanford White’s 1892 master plan for the University Heights campus, of which Gould Memorial Library was the centerpiece.

What visitors see as they enter the second floor immediately establishes the library as a home for today’s cyber-savvy scholar. Technology dominates the vast central study area known as the “information commons.”  Desktop computers are as familiar a feature on this floor as book stacks are on the floor above. Forty-two  Apple Macs and 158 Dell PCs are conveniently placed around the room –and the entire North Hall and Library is wi-fied for those bringing their own portable media.

Adjacent to the information commons are 25 “Group Study Rooms,” where small gatherings of students can engage in collaborative learning just steps away from the resources of the library.  There is also a full-sized Library Research Classroom with 48 more desktop computers, where students will be regularly instructed in the mastery of all the hardware, software and databases housed in or accessible from the North Hall and Library.

Perhaps nothing better symbolizes the library’s dual identity as a home to both traditional and contemporary information technology than the two service desks on the second floor. At one end is the circulation desk, where students can check out the centuries’ old medium of books.  At the other end is the new media Desk, where videos can be ordered and streamed to screens in three of the group study rooms (BCC instructors are encouraged to include a video component as part of their courses’ study materials).  IPads, laptops, cameras, and calculators can also be checked out here — indeed, students in some courses can borrow a laptop for an entire semester.

On the first floor of the North Hall and Library are fifteen classrooms. Every teacher’s desk has a podium that includes an LCD control panel for a wall-mounted projector that can display images to supplement lectures and lessons.  The sources for those visuals range from the instructor’s own desktop computer, a built-in Blu-Ray player or external devices like laptops.  There is also a document camera that can capture anything placed under its lens, from a page of equations for a math class to a rock sample for a roomful of budding geologists. Ironically, the “screen” on which these images are displayed is a standard white erase board. This allows teachers to write additional comments with an old-school marker — though the more tech-adept instructors can use an electronic “pen” that adds their circles and arrows and underlinings directly to the visuals coming out of the projector (these notations can then be saved on the desktop). The classroom floor has 96 laptops available for student use.

The North Hall and Library is the first major new construction on the University Heights campus since it became the home of Bronx Community College in 1973. The new building sits on 1.74 acres, and the total floor area is 98,597 gross square feet. The building was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLC. Ismael Levya Architects, PC, are the Associate Architects.

Movies and videos from the library’s online collection can be seen through the classroom projectors — and heard through ceiling-mounted speakers. Indeed, with so much of the library’s wisdom available on any computer linked to the internet, students don’t have to actually come to the North Hall and Library to take advantage of many of its resources.

Does this point to a day when the brick-and-mortar library itself will be a relic of the past?  Bronx Community College Chief Librarian, Professor Teresa McManus, doesn’t think so. “We used to talk about ‘libraries without walls,'” she observes.  “But it’s very important to have a library with walls. Our students need a place to study, to learn–to be.”