by Gene Marrano
Libraries are not just places where one checks out books anymore, lets face it. They are also community centers, social spots, computer access points and even coffee shops. Witness the downtown Roanoke City library’s ongoing series of events on its mezzanine level, and the new Roanoke County library in the Cave Spring area, which indeed does include a genuine coffee shop – as in Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea.
So it doesn’t seem out of place that Virginia Western Community College spent close to $500,000 on construction costs and another $300,000 for technology upgrades (including 40 computers) on the Brown Library’s main floor. Visitors now are greeted by an open, airy lounge featuring workstations, plush chairs and couches. There is a new self-serve coffee bar and rooms where students can work together on projects, using videoconferencing and iPads that are available for lending. Students can access the internet via Wi-Fi from the lounge and plug in their laptops when the battery (inevitably) starts to fail.
The five study rooms feature 42-inch HD monitors that connect to mobile devices. A classroom features whiteboard (touch enabled screen) technology. The “new” Brown Library main floor (the library has three floors in all) reopened to students in mid-January.
Dale Dulaney, the reference librarian for Virginia Western, said the renovations “have created a great atmosphere for students to come in and do their work. They immediately made themselves right at home. There’s so much more potential, we just can’t wait [to use it].” Dulaney likes that students can work on group projects, bringing up papers or PowerPoint presentations on the large monitors. Interactive CD’s can be used by students or teachers, for subjects like anatomy.
It’s a new world said Dulaney, all about meeting the expectations college and even high school students have these days. “They want a place where they can come and use whatever technology they are accustomed to using, and a place where they can be comfortable.” Dulaney likens it to a “Barnes & Noble feel. We’ve been getting a lot of oohs and aahs from students.”
With more classes promoting a team-based approach to the curriculum, the high-tech workplaces now located at the Brown Library become even more important. “For our purposes, for higher education, [students] are going to have this type of stuff in the workplace,” said Josh Meyer, a spokesman for VWCC. “We have to give them the experience with it.”
The main floor at the Brown Library was closed for almost two years while renovations took place. “It’s not about sticking someone over in the corner [anymore to study],” said Meyer. “The students love it. This is really becoming the place…to hang out or work between classes.”