New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

New Community College Library Merges Great Architecture and 21st Century Learning

By Teresa McManus, Chief Librarian and Professor, Bronx Community College

Everyone I see entering the new Bronx Community College Library (BCC Library) lifts their eyes and raises their head to look up at the high ceiling and tall windows and expansive views as they stand at the entrance to the Dr. Carolyn G. Williams Reading Room.  From the entrance they can see across the entire North Hall and Library building to the north and south, the complete collection of books located on the 3rd floor, and on a clear day the view includes the green quad of trees and grass that forms the center of BCC’s urban campus.  I never tire of watching people as they see it for the first time, it is amazing to see so many people react the same way, they stand a little straighter, breathe a little deeper and one can see them visibly responding to the stunning beauty and spaciousness of the new BCC Library.

Last month BCC was honored to receive designation as a National Historic Landmark for nationally significant architecture.  Five sites around the campus quad were included, the Gould Memorial Library, Philosophy Hall, Language Hall, Havermeyer Hall and the Hall of Fame of Great Americans, all designed by renowned architect Stanford White. The Bronx Community College is the first community college to receive this designation.  As one would guess the fact that the new BCC Library fits in well with the historically important architecture is no accident, the architects involved in the project took great care in ensuring the building would complete the north quad with a building that matches the magnificent buildings on BCC’s 43 acre campus.

Robert A. M. Stern, architect, and Iris Weinshall, CUNY Vice Chancellor, speaking at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in September, both noted that there are no buildings being built for libraries in higher education with the classical beauty of BCC’s North Hall and Library.  BCC Library is modeled on the St. Genevieve Library in Paris designed by Henri Labroustesa and designed to accommodate 21st Century learning needs. 

The North Hall and Library contains classrooms on the first floor and the 33,153 square foot library on the second and third floors.  The second floor Information Commons is technology intensive, with 200 computers in carrels and on tables, with printing and copying available as well as 25 Group Study Rooms, and faculty and staff providing services at desks for Reference, Circulation, New Media and Information Services.  The third floor provides comfortable seating, more carrels and tables, printing and copying and quiet study areas.  The space is designed to accommodate collaboration and interactive learning as well as individual study.

Daniel Hauben painted scenes of the Bronx for the North Hall and Library.  Twenty of the twenty-two paintings are positioned in the frieze at the third floor height surrounding the Dr. Carolyn G. Williams Reading Room.  The other two paintings, each measuring ten by five feet, are in the entrance stairways, easily viewed while climbing to the second floor or when standing on the second floor landing before entering BCC Library.  The paintings capture familiar urbanscapes and river views, even the people in the paintings seem recognizable as BCC students and people from the wider community. 

BCC faculty, students, alumni, staff and friends have achieved a great milestone with the creation of the magnificent North Hall and Library.  For me, the view that is most inspiring is in the midst of the academic semester when large numbers of students are actively engaged in learning, creating a hub of activity, motion and focused concentration.  Standing at the entrance one can see large numbers of students all at the same time, a portrait of learning in action in a beautiful space.  New York City and the State of New York have shown commitment, courage and wisdom in investing in the future of Bronx Community College students by creating an inspiring Library and an environment truly conducive to learning.