Hunt should be redesigned for the 21st-century student

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Now that I have moved farther away from campus and the difficulty of my coursework is steadily increasing, I actively seek a place on campus where I can consistently do my work without interruption or inconvenience. Though a library would seem to be that place, this university’s main library is ill-equipped to handle the ever-changing needs of a 21st-century student.

All Hunt Library boasts are stacks upon stacks of unused books, and while I think it is necessary that the library has many volumes, they take up massive amounts of space and provide little or no utility to the majority of library users. The University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library has invested in moving bookcases that make books available, but pack them tightly enough that they aren’t taking up precious space. This is creative, but it’s certainly not new technology. Libraries have been doing this for years as they realize that the needs of library users are changing. For both Hunt and the Carnegie Mellon campus at large, effective use of space is crucial, seeing that room for expansion is virtually nil.

In our library, technology has come as an afterthought. The cluster — albeit wonderfully equipped — is tucked away, the music is shoved into a back corner, and the lone “instructional center” is merely carved out of the existing book space, with flimsy panels and open bookcases for walls. Power outlets are few and far between, limiting the number of places where students can use laptops for extended periods of time. The old style of research that this building was constructed to facilitate is gone now, and newer styles of learning are restricted to dusty corners.

Hunt must be redesigned to facilitate many different kinds of work — both collaborative and individual. Right now, it is merely a series of hallways with tables. Sure, you can do group work there, but the first two floors are often prohibitively noisy, and wherever you are, there will be a maximum of two outlets, so only two in your group can use laptops, unless of course you remembered to bring a handy power strip with you. If you want to write something down or sketch out group ideas, hopefully you brought your own whiteboard, because even the lone conference room in the basement doesn’t provide a space conducive to brainstorming or planning, let alone the other spaces. The best place to work is a tiny table shoved in the back of the basement, jammed between the 1889 edition of Zeitschrift Des Verien Deutsche Ingenieure and a pile of unused paper boxes. Those who have used the space know that other students eager for a good space to work trek into the depths of the basement only to leave disappointed that you found their secret space first.

If you like to work silently, hopefully you enjoy uncomfortable study carrels and don’t enjoy using your laptop. For the 124 study carrels in the quiet study areas of the third floor, there are only 26 outlets. Not only is this woefully inadequate for modern study, it’s also hazardous, as the outlets are spaced such that students have to walk over and around cords so they don’t fall and hurt themselves — or worse yet, hurt a laptop. I know that glossy, inane college guides makes it seem to prospective students like there is some sort of contest among universities to see who can accrue the most volumes, but perhaps they should consider listing the outlet-to-desk ratio, a stat that is vastly more relevant and says volumes more about the state of library resources.

Certainly in a modern library, some spaces can afford to be noisy (the Maggie Murph Café, for instance), but there must be space for groups and individuals to work in an environment that is both quiet and comfortable. Why can’t space be set aside for a series of conference rooms, meeting rooms, classrooms, lounges — with walls that are soundproof to ensure an environment that maximizes productivity, but movable to create a dynamic, multi-functional space? Think setting aside so much room for defined spaces is absurd? Consider Mack Scogin’s law library on the campus of Arizona State University. Scogin, the man who is currently designing the Gates Center, put up a library on the ASU campus that features three computer clusters and 27 meeting and study rooms. Though the student population of ASU is much larger than Carnegie Mellon’s, the law school library serves only about 600 full-time students. That is an environment that is conducive to learning.

Even Hunt’s hours of operation are symptomatic of “old-school thinking.” I congratulate the library for being open until 3 a.m. on weekdays, but its hours on weekends are not logical. The library does not open until noon and closes at nine. I have seen dozens of students rattle the locked doors of Hunt early on a Saturday or Sunday, wanting to get their work done early in the day. I don’t know the logic behind the hours — can they not afford staff? Are they suggesting that certain times are unfit for study? I still have no idea, though I have asked on occasion. This university can’t load us down with mountains of group and individual work and then not give a place that is open, comfortable, and conducive to getting that work done.

Happily, Hunt is not complexly laid out — it is a big aluminum box that, as we have seen with the Maggie Murph Café, lends itself quite successfully to renovation. Now, I am not foolish enough to believe the changes I suggest are free. Of course, they could cost as much as a few million dollars. But if a concerted effort were made in planning the budget and looking for outside donors, in much the same way as Purnell or the University Center were built, I believe the money could be raised within several years. If money cannot be found anywhere, the administration might think of at least asking students how they feel about library resources so that if a funding opportunity opens up, the administration will at least know what to kind of facility to shoot for. I don’t expect immediate action (anyone at Carnegie Mellon who does is either dreaming or visiting), but I do expect a concerted effort.

In the meantime, I open this challenge to all student and faculty architects and designers: Fix Hunt Library. Show us what an innovative, 21st-century library looks like. Tear down walls, move books, put in wiring, rip out ceilings, and make the library the center of campus academic life. Maybe your designs will never be fully realized, but no one will ever be moved to action if students merely grumble quietly or walk away frustrated when they have no to adequate space to got work done.

But whatever you do, leave Maggie Murph alone — I love those cookies.