New Look Coming Soon for Albion's Library

The interior of Stockwell Library will have a dramatic new look following renovations slated for this summer. The building’s redesigned first floor, to be named the Cutler Commons, will include group study areas (at right), a one-stop service desk (at left), and a spacious café.Stockwell Library's interior will have a dramatic new look following renovations slated for this summer. The building’s redesigned first floor, to be named Cutler Commons, will include group study areas (at right), a one-stop service desk (at left), and a spacious café. (Click to enlarge)To get a handle on Albion College’s plans to upgrade its library facilities this summer, think “library meets Starbucks.” The first floor of the Stockwell Library building and the bridge connecting Stockwell to the Mudd Learning Center are being transformed into Cutler Commons, an active learning space wired for the latest technology and serving up a menu of popular espresso drinks.

The renovations, slated for completion by mid-August, have been made possible by a leadership gift from Sally Stark Cutler, ’75, and her husband, Sandy Cutler. In making the gift, Sally Cutler notes that “libraries are changing, with constantly advancing technology for locating and presenting information. If Albion is to remain competitive, the library needs to keep up with these trends. Sandy and I are pleased that we can help make this happen at Albion.” Members of the College’s Board of Trustees have also made personal gifts to the project.

Cutler Commons will be a “busy, active space,” according to Mike Van Houten, library co-director. Modular furnishings, portable white boards, and readily accessible data and power sources will mean that the work areas can be easily reconfigured to support different needs.Modular furnishings, portable white boards, and readily accessible data and power sources will mean that work areas can be easily reconfigured to support different needs. (Click to enlarge)“This leadership gift from Sally and Sandy Cutler and the support from our trustees allow us to move forward quickly on library improvements that have been in the planning stages for many months,” says President Donna Randall. “We are literally redefining what our library should be and how it can better serve the entire campus community, and it’s most gratifying to be taking this next step.”

Technology is just one of the factors prompting libraries to change today. They are also adapting to new, more interactive approaches to teaching and learning.

“In the new Cutler Commons,” explains Provost Susan Conner, “students will find an environment that will be bright, welcoming, vibrant. While there will continue to be quiet space in the library for individual research, reflection, and writing, the Commons will provide social space, creative space, and work areas for groups.”

The café will feature a full-service coffee bar, specialty beverages, and fresh delicatessen-style offerings, with seating extending into the bridge connecting the Stockwell building with the Mudd Learning Center.The café will feature a full-service coffee bar, specialty beverages, and fresh deli-style offerings, with seating extending into the bridge connecting Stockwell with Mudd Learning Center. (Click to enlarge)These improvements are actually the first phase of a larger plan to fully upgrade Albion’s library buildings to reflect how libraries are evolving in the 21st century. According to Mike Van Houten, library co-director, these changes will help the library become “an academic hub,” serving as much more than a storehouse of resources. A recent study by Steelcase indicates that, in addition to offering a broad array of information and research tools, libraries now must provide “support for computing equipment, . . . content-creation tools, and a flexible environment that supports working in pairs and teams.” In doing so, libraries are echoing what’s happening in the classroom today, Van Houten says.

“The library should be the intellectual heart of a campus,” Conner maintains, “serving students, faculty, staff, and the greater research community across all fields. It needs to have public and private spaces, quiet and noisy spaces, and data and power links accessible throughout.”

Traffic patterns within Albion’s library will also change following the renovations. The Stockwell building’s front door will once again become the main entrance to the library complex and will lead directly into the Cutler Commons, underscoring the central role of this space. The circulation and reference desks will move from their current location in the Mudd building to the west end of Stockwell, creating a one-stop service area that will offer library instruction and resource help as well as laptop checkout and technical assistance.

The Stockwell building’s redesigned front entrance, which will become the main entryway for the library, will lead directly into Cutler Commons.The Stockwell building’s redesigned front entrance, which will become the main entryway for the library, will lead directly into Cutler Commons. (Click to enlarge)The Stockwell building’s classical architectural details, including the colonnade that lines the current first-floor reading room, have been integrated into the new plans. The long oak study tables that have served generations of students will be given new homes elsewhere in the library to make room for new furnishings that will support 21st-century technology. The Commons’ spaces will be fluid, Conner notes, with modular furnishings designed “to accommodate different configurations and different learning styles.”

Also coming thanks to the renovation is a College-run café, with a full-service coffee bar, specialty beverages, and fresh delicatessen-style offerings.

“With these renovations, I think students will be much more likely to use the library as a resource,” says student library employee Audrey Huggett. “Better support for our laptops, the new, comfortable furniture, and the café all mean the library will be a more relaxed and inviting place to study.”