UVic Torch -- Autumn 2008
Autumn 2008,
Volume 29, Number 2

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Tech In The Park A library for the times
Photography by VINCE KLASSEN
From the outside looking in: the library's new extension.

On a Friday afternoon in the middle of September students pour from lecture rooms and burst into the season’s first hint of crisp autumn air. Anxious for the weekend, they rush back to dorms or to the Finnerty exchange, where a crowd forms for out-bound busses. In contrast, the new William C. Mearns Centre for Learning offers a far more contemplative approach to the afternoon.

The new addition to the McPherson Library building includes a glass stairwell “galleria,” a think-zone that invites silent concentration. Dozens of students have taken positions in pods of armchairs where they tackle reading assignments.

Nathalia Down, in her second year of a Philosophy and Environmental Studies program, would rather study here than at her off-campus home. “It’s my day off, I don’t even have any classes today but I like it here because it’s quiet and bright. I took summer classes as well and spent a lot of time here.”

That’s exactly what library staff members were hoping for when they began mapping out renovation and expansion plans that culminated with the spring opening of the Mearns Centre.

The project was aided by a $5-million donation from the family of Bill Mearns, a UVic founder and graduate of Victoria College. The Province of BC matched the Mearns gift, with the balance of the $20-million budget coming from other donors and the university.

The result, in the age of Google, is a library for the times.

“Students love being around other students. So one of our main objectives was to offer social and study spaces,” says assistant university librarian Wendie McHenry, who adds that the staff puts emphasis on introducing first-year students to the library’s services. “Google is great but we have resources that are so much deeper.”

Entering the main doorway, patrons are drawn in by a spacious main-floor corridor that extends the full length of the facility, including a seamless link to the new addition. To the left, there’s the new BiblioCafé, which rapidly emerged as a campus mecca for coffee or a bite to eat.

Combined with the structural addition (3,772 square metres on the northeast side of the library) and seismic upgrading, the library has been undergoing extensive renovations to adapt to the digital age >> and to accommodate e-learning, group studies and learning assistance programs. Apart from the 1.9 million holdings (books, serials and microforms) that form the backbone of the library, there are 184 computer workstations and 46 laptops available on loan.

The Bessie Brooks Winspear Media Commons not only includes video and audio resources, but also eight iMac computers and software for creating presentations. Across the corridor, the C.W. Lui Learning Commons provides space for collaborative studies and tutoring, as well as access to reference and information services.

One area that takes its cue from more traditional scholastic approaches, without coming off stodgy, is the Archives and Special Collections department. The viewing room offers leather furniture and natural light comes in through windows treated to protect rare holdings from damaging UV rays. In the “vault,” rare books and manuscripts are safeguarded by humidity and temperature controls and a waterless fire suppression system.

Nightfall brings out one of the most striking aspects of the new-look library. As McHenry notes, the glassed-in addition, lit from within, becomes something of a “beacon.” At the main doors, spotlighting enhances the white façade above the new stainless steel and glass entrance arch, and light through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the BiblioCafé lends a greater sense of security.

In short, McHenry says, the most common reaction to the new library is: “Wow.”

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