Mudd Library of the Future
Womb chairs, bright colors, big paper lamps and wild-patterned carpets have always given Mudd Library an energetic quirkiness. But no matter how lively the furnishings are, students agree that the building needs more energy: comments on the suggestions board indicate that electrical outlets in the building are scarce and many students wish the library would stay open later.
Enter Mudd’s Academic Commons project, which will modernize the first floor of Mudd into a combination café, student service and technology center and collaborative workspace. The floor will remain open until 2 a.m. and, yes, it will be complete with electrical outlets.
In addition to putting a glass-walled café in the current periodicals area, the plan promises to include many group and computer workspaces. A major goal is to create a space that is more comfortable and open to communal work.
The academic commons will also bring many of the library’s services from other parts of the library to the first floor.
“Much time went into planning a space that makes student services as accessible as is possible,” explained College sophomore Rachel Karasick, a student consultant on the project’s planning committee.
“That was the main goal, really -- the consolidation of [circulation], reserves, A/V rental, CIT help, the writing center, a fancy-pants media lab and reference help all present on main level. These services can now function in conjunction with one another!”
The Board of Trustees met in Oberlin on Saturday to approve the plan, which had previously been uncertain because it lacked funding. “It is definitely a go,” said Director of Libraries Ray English after the plan was passed. “It is going to happen.”
Now that the Board has approved the plan, construction should begin as soon as exams end so that the Academic Commons will be finished this fall.
English said that the Board’s affirmation came largely because the project — which he said is budgeted at $1.5 million — recently received a large funding promise.
“Everything was kind of contingent on funding,” he explained. “Back in the fall, we had commitments from two major donors and then more recently there has been a commitment, a major commitment, from another alumnus…that has really gotten us to the point where the trustees felt that they could approve it, and we hope to raise the rest of the money in the coming months.”
According to English, an additional $250,000 has yet to be raised.
The trustees’ approval is a major step in a planning process that began early last year with President Nancy Dye’s authorization. Dye was unavailable for comment.
That process included a survey of the student body last spring, as well as student focus groups and two student consultants, Karasick and fifth-year double degree student Allison Choat, on the main committee. Karasick seemed pleased with the level of student involvement, but said she still would have liked to have seen more after the initial focus groups and student survey last year. “There was a solid amount of student input,” she said “but there could have been more.”
According to Karasick, one issue was the idea of a café potentially endangering the library’s collection. She also suggested that some students might be disgruntled to see another café so close to Decafé.
“I agreed to be on this committee because I wanted to fight the café,” she said, “I was eventually swayed by the truth that kids eat in the library regardless of library policy and that it would be better to just provide students a designated space to eat that will not damage the collection.”
Other students look forward to the environment that a café will provide, especially since the periodicals area already has a relaxed feel. “When you choose to sit in this area, it’s kind of a leisurely mix of studies and social interaction,” said College junior Kate Mooney. “A café would fit in.”
Part of that atmosphere comes from Mudd’s 70s décor, which English says will be updated but not obliterated. He explained, “It will be quite colorful. We think the look and feel will be similar, but it will be new and it will be different.”
Several aspects of the plan have not been finalized: students will have the chance to help choose the area’s furnishings later this year, when samples will be available in the library. Other decisions will require more thought; the cafe’s menu, which English promises will be gourmet, and its hours of operation, are still under consideration.
For now, many students like what they hear. College senior Adam Seidman commented, “I love it…I think it [will] make the library more of a destination for more kids on campus.”