Library renovations central to campus changes

Transformation of state’s largest library embraces ‘big data’ era, improved wayfinding, open study spaces

Improved power sources and internet connectivity have been priorities in renovating the library – especially in new study spaces on the second and third floors. By the end of September, the third floor will be reopened to the public. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

“The only thing worse than construction on campus,” UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo has said, “is no construction.”

That’s because construction and renovation projects are such reliable signs of an institution’s health. Nowhere is that clearer than at the Chester Fritz Library, where a major renovation now is delivering study spaces, IT services and (soon) a coffee shop, just in time to accommodate students who’ve been used to finding those services at the Memorial Union.

Stephanie Walker, dean of libraries and information resources, has been elated by the prospect of getting North Dakota’s largest library up-to-date. The work has been a long time coming; the last time the Chester Fritz Library was renovated, she noted, was in 1981.

“When I first came here, I followed some parent tours around the library, just to listen,” Walker recalled. “One time I heard, ‘It looks like a 1970’s library with some computers dropped in,’ and they were right.”

Of course, while the library may have looked 1970s, it functioned 2010s, thanks to the efforts of its ever-innovative staff, Walker said. But UND and North Dakota now have made upgraded facilities a priority. And thanks to that focus, the library is years into a renovation that began in 2016 and will continue into 2020 and beyond.

Some of the library’s already-available as well as planned services are unique on campus. For example, the new One Button Studio on the second floor lets students – even students who don’t have strong technological background – create videos.

In October, the library’s V-Lab (for data visualization, virtual and augmented reality and robotics) will open in its permanent home on the third floor. And when the new College of Business & Public Administration is completed, a skyway will connect that building’s second floor with the third floor of the Library, where students will find an entrepreneurship space.

Meanwhile, key services that had been in the Memorial Union have found a home in the Chester Fritz Library.

With the north entrance to the Chester Fritz Library closed until October, renovations are underway to create an improved entryway with routes to University IT on the ground floor and the main library landing on the second. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

A big one is study space, one of the most common reasons in years past for students to trek to the Memorial Union. Walker is eager to show off the library’s newly renovated study spaces, some of which even boast the comfortable furniture that had been in the Union’s lower level.

For example, if you walk up the South Entrance’s staircase and take a right, you’ll encounter some of that furniture in what’s now an open and welcoming study space. Last year at this time, the space was filled with bookshelves.

And as Walker points out, the room was renovated, not just cleared. It now features abundant power outlets and four-bar internet accessibility.

Stephanie Walker

Adjacent to the study space is a high-ceilinged reading room, a place where renovation still is underway. But as soon as the plastic tapestries of the library’s renovation process are cleared, library users will find a room with an all-new look and feel to match the adjacent study space, Walker said.

“It’s coming along nicely,” she said. “We’re putting in more power and data, as well as new lighting, which was really needed. There will be new furniture, too, which will include a mix of lounge pieces and study tables.”

Furthermore, “a study space exactly like this will be available on the third floor,” Walker said.

Then there is the Knowledge Commons, the desk complex that visitors will find on the north landing of the second floor. Walker intends to have several campus services represented, including some such as Career Services whose main office is outside of the library.

That notion of multiple uses carries across much of the work happening at the library. Walker envisions the library as being a center for all kinds of things; and once the library’s north entrance is remodeled, visitors will pick up on that mission right away.

“When you used to walk in, it was very unfriendly,” Walker describes. “It was bare space. You couldn’t see it was a library.”

Once the north entrance is opened in October, people will walk in and see everything they might want to do. They’ll see “down” as going to University IT, and “up” as taking them to the library, where desks will be installed and people will be ready to help.

Overall, the wayfinding will be much improved, Walker said.

On the ground floor of the library, most of University IT’s staff is now in the same space for the first time. In their service to the entire campus, they’re now central to classrooms, study spaces and facilities. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Speaking of UIT, that’s another service formerly housed in the Memorial Union that’s now in the library. In fact, the library now is University IT’s permanent home.

Madhavi Marasinghe, UND’s chief information officer, says this is the first time almost all of the UIT staff has been under one roof. She believes being in the Chester Fritz Library presents plenty of opportunities for collaboration.

Madhavi Marasinghe

“Both the library and UIT provide services to the entire campus,” she told UND Today. “Now that we are in the same building, it can become the hub for our customers to drop off their equipment for service and read a book, do research or even homework while their equipment is fixed.”

How to make that even better? Install a coffee bar on the same floor. It will open in February, with its name to be determined by a contest running Oct. 7 to Nov. 8.

“How cool will it be for you to go have a cup of coffee while your computer is being fixed or you have a conversation with our capable UIT staff?” Marasinghe mused.

Outside of the UIT office space, in the first floor landing area, people will find a Makerspace, a windowed room with 3D printers, engravers and a variety of other tools. It’s a work area where students, faculty and staff can make their ideas a reality, according to the CIO.

The space is open to all students regardless of major, experience or knowledge. It’s maintained by student employees from a variety of backgrounds, ready to help.

“Most of the time, students use the services to print designs for their classes,” Marasinghe said. “In collaboration with other academic units and the library, we hope to expand services to not just technology, but other non-technology uses as well.”

The biggest advantage, she says, is that all of these tools and services are located in the heart of campus, as central to campus life as Memorial Union has been (and will be again).

Even with only one entrance to the library open this semester, the building still remains easily accessible to the entire campus community.

“When we are physically distributed across campus, it is not easy to build a cohesive team,” she noted. “The central location allows us to engage with our customers more frequently in person and provide better service to address their needs, by problem-solving as a team.”

For more news and posts concerning library renovations, check out the Chester Fritz Library Updates blog.