MEC Library Reopens After $22 Million Rehab

September 25, 2014 | News


The Charles Evans Innis Memorial Library at Medgar Evers College has reopened for business, after being closed for a two-and-a-half-year, $22 million overhaul. Located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the library serves a 7,000-member campus community, many of whom are first in their families to attend college.

The renovation added 8,000-square feet to the library, bringing the total interior to 36,000 square feet between three floors. The renovation included new open space for individual and collaborative learning, five new study rooms, and three training labs for information literacy and critical thinking instruction. There are also group study spaces for students and faculty. The college archives, rare books and special collections have new, inviting space for the library’s growing collections in the African-American experience and the Civil Rights Movement. Soon, both the MEC Learning and Writing Centers will also be relocated to the new facility.

“Everything has that new car smell,” said Chief Librarian David Orenstein. “We are so happy to be back at what can be called a brand new library. This is not a mere renovation; it’s a re-imagination.” Added Curtis Kendrick, University Dean for Libraries and Information Resources at CUNY: “This imaginative use of space lets faculty and staff use a modern academic library to its fullest potential.”

While construction of the library building was underway, the College’s Carroll Street building provided the temporary home for the library faculty and staff. The physical collection of the library, with its 100,000 volumes, was stored at the CUNY School of Law Library in Queens. Over the last two summers, the MEC library faculty and staff conducted an exhaustive inventory of the print collections. “Not only did we see this as an opportunity to discard individual monographs and whole collections which were out of date and no longer relevant to the curriculum, but we also fixed a great deal of bibliographic holdings for better access,” Dr. Orenstein said.

Faculty service is a major emphasis of the redesigned library. Two new faculty spaces have been added, including a room for faculty research, with a dedicated librarian assisting faculty. The Emerging Tech Lab provides faculty with media and technology resources to develop pedagogy related to the web, and a librarian on site for consultation and planning. “We’re focused on the students but we’re equally focused on the faculty,” said Dr. Orenstein. “Librarians are part of the academic life and a part of the research life of the faculty.”

The reimagined library is also a community space for exhibitions and performance. The first art exhibition focused on the African-American Diaspora, will be held in October. On September 22nd, in partnership with the English Department, the library will host a poetry slam for the National Poetic Day of Justice on its ground floor. Student poets and performers will share their work and the work of others who lend their voices to speak out on issues of social justice and police brutality.

The current library was designed by ICON5 architects. Dr. Orenstein and staff provided direction for reconfiguring the library both as both a research and community space. The library’s physical design was based on the kinds of library services that draw on rapid innovation, such as media labs and online tutorials for faculty, and the kinds of transactions that bring people in and foster teamwork.

“It is through the use of the new physical space and its online presence that the library maintains our relevance,” said Dr. Orenstein. “We should remember that while the building is modern, the library itself shares the same DNA as the Library of Alexandria. We are here to make information more accessible and we should be celebrating all libraries as engines for economic growth, lighthouses for education and intellectual discovery and partners for democracy.”