College closes book on new library

By Campus Editor

Plans to move the library to the college’s recently acquired Johnson Publishing Building, 820 S. Michigan Ave., have been nixed as President Kwang-Wu Kim and other administrators discuss how best to use the new facility. 

Library employees were notified during a Sept. 24 town hall meeting that the move from its current location in the South Campus Building, 624 S. Michigan Ave., was in jeopardy. 

According to Kim, financing issues and a lack of foresight in drawing up the blueprints, which initially left vacant space in both buildings, led to the decision to drop the plan.

“We decided that we don’t really have a full-enough plan to implement,” Kim said. “Do we need to move the whole collection? Unless there is something structurally wrong with the [current] building, why would we take a series of new spaces and put books in them?”

Kim acknowledged concerns that the current library building is structurally unable to bear the weight of the books, but said the college has remedied the situation through engineering and redistributing books since the issue was first brought to the college’s attention in 2009. 

“The building is stabilized and that’s no longer a concern,” he said.

Last year, then vice president of Institutional Advancement Eric Winston  said the college hoped to raise $15 million to $20 million  through a fundraising project called The Johnson Legacy Project, as reported Sept. 10, 2012 by The Chronicle. 

The plans that were proposed last year would move the library to the first seven floors of the 11-story Johnson Publishing building, according to Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment.

Berg said the plans didn’t include provisions for the three vacant floors of the Johnson Publishing Building or the five floors that the library occupies in the South Campus Building. Berg and Kim said this contributed to

the cancellation. 

“The college wanted to make this project much more exciting by figuring out a way to use the whole building and doing it as one big project,” Berg said.

Despite renderings of blueprints and announcement of potential new library features, such as robotic arms used to collect books from circulation shelves, Kim said the board of trustees never formally approved the proposed library, so the project never advanced past the planning stage that only consisted of a “very advanced conversation.” 

“A lot of time and thought may have gone into [planning], but it was never an approved project,” Kim said. “The only way a capital project can take place is if the board approves it and that

never happened.” 

Kim said financing the project is his biggest concern. If the college were to update the previous plan to include renovation of the vacant space, the college would not be able to fund the project, Kim said. 

“If someone said we had the money to do this before, we don’t,” Kim said. “It’s the inevitable consequence when there were just a lot of unanswered questions.”

According to Berg, the original plan had been to stage the project in a couple of phases to make it more affordable.

“We’re always trying to balance desires with what the college can afford so we can remain affordable to students,” Berg said.

Jan Chindlund, dean of the library, said Berg and the library employees informally presented possible plans for the library to the board in March.

“The board was cognizant of plans but were not called for a vote,” Chindlund said. “We were excited about the possibilities, of course.”

Chindlund said she understands the college’s decision to put a halt to library plans, echoing Kim’s concerns of financial limitations and ensuring all space is utilized. 

“It makes total sense to [plan] the whole building at the same time so that all of the functions in the building are synergistic,” Chindlund said. “We are all dependent on our leadership, and our leadership has new ideas and vision. He is articulating those visions in a great way.”

According to Chindlund, the previously discussed plan designated  this year for planning and the following year for renovations, with the library opening in the 2015 fall semester. 

In addition to robotic arms, the plans included the construction of four multi-purpose classrooms and more quiet space.

Chindlund said Columbia’s library needs more space because size constraints are limiting the services offered. For example, Chindlund said that only one class can use the existing resource classroom at a time, despite several teachers wanting to use it simultaneously.

“While the buildout is on hold, the library is on the move,” Chindlund said. “[Kim] is going to investigate what students want and I

 am happy to hear that and I think what he finds out is [going to be] some of the things we’ve already found out.”

Berg said the college needs an information-centered space where students have access to resources, from career support opportunities to books and computers.

There has been talk of a possible of a student center, but Kim said he would prefer to gather student input before tackling such

a project. 

The college is looking at what kinds of spaces students want right now, whether it be a central location for students to congregate or more study space, Kim added.

“Students are looking for more spaces where they can interact with one another,” Kim said.