University City

New library entrance, student workspaces

Forget Occupy Wall Street, or even Occupy Charlotte. This month, when students return for the spring semester at UNC Charlotte, they will take over more space at J. Murray Atkins Library than ever before.

Library officials couldn't be more pleased.

This month, the library will unveil its new north entrance, which not only will shorten the walk for students coming from the campus' growing north side but also open up 5,000 square feet dedicated to undergraduates who participate in collaborative work groups.

Librarian Stanley Wilder said the renovations were necessary to keep up with the tasks given to students by professors today.

"There's far more group work being assigned in college than there used to be," he said. "The renovated spaces inside the north entrance are going to be wonderful, high-tech spaces that can be used only by undergraduates working together."

The new hall will feature a large conference room and space for a half-dozen smaller collaborative work areas, each with wall monitors that attach to laptops, whiteboards, ample electricity and comfortable seating.

In February, two touch-screen tables will be installed for students working on digital projects. The library will also receive a boost to its wireless networking quality in March.

Part of the space for the new collaborative work centers was retrofitted from faculty offices currently moving to other locations.

This isn't the first time the library has undergone substantial changes to keep up with the times. In the 1990s, it underwent large renovations to accommodate the growing number of doctorate programs offered at the university.

That upgrade, completed in 2000, was sorely needed, said Wilder. "The library went from basically being a teaching and curriculum-oriented library to one that supports research."

Much of the renovation then was aimed at improving conditions for graduate students and faculty. The changes will benefit undergraduates.

Research by the library's in-house anthropologist revealed a lack of undergraduate collaborative centers on campus. "There weren't any spaces that were built, designed in such a way as to support students doing collaborative work," said Wilder. "What we've seen is there's an enormous need."

Sketches by students describing their ideal workstation helped in designing the centers.

More room eventually will open to students as the library begins discarding some of its print journals, already replaced by digital format.

"We're very anxious to turn more space over to students so that they can be doing work in the library," said Wilder.

The new entrance also will be a welcome addition for students living on the north side of campus, who generally had to walk around the entire library to get inside.

In the last few years, construction on the north side, including a new student union and several dormitories, has caused a need for an entrance where there once wasn't one.

The entrance will shorten the walk for the high volume of foot traffic brought by the new buildings.

"That was part of the justification of doing it," said Wilder. "The other part is, we have access to this large and beautiful space that really ought to be in students' hands."