This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Library’s $17M facelift encourages discovery, collaboration

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If you haven’t visited the Young Research Library (YRL) for a while, you’re in for quite a surprise. Changes are evident before you even enter the building: rich Italian marble on the portico floor; sparkling-clean, sliding glass doors; and a TV monitor displaying the library’s hours and event programming.
 
Step inside, however, and you’ll be amazed by the library’s entirely new look. The first floor and lower level have been completely transformed into beautiful, bright, functional spaces befitting YRL’s stature as a top-10 American research library in the 21st century.
 
"YRL hasn’t had a facelift since it was built, which is now almost 50 years ago," said Deputy University Librarian Susan Parker, who worked with UCLA University Librarian Gary Strong and the architectural team from Perkins+Will to design the new spaces. "We talked about what this library is for. The research library primarily serves graduate students and faculty in the humanities and social sciences. And so, what about that? We came up with a lot of themes, but we honed them down to three.
 
"The three themes for this library are journey, discovery and collaboration. That’s how we see research generally at UCLA, and so this library’s point is to facilitate all of those things, to participate in all of those things and be an integral piece of every one of those things."
 
Although a few barriers are still set up around construction areas, Parker is projecting that at least some of the new spaces will be open for use on Sept. 19, the first day of Fall Quarter. Walking through YRL’s front doors, library patrons will be greeted by a large, curved-wall structure that encloses a compact exhibition space. The wall is inscribed with the word "Welcome" and a series of icons that Parker and Strong created with the help of an environmental branding consultant. Some of the icons are literal (books, coffee cups), and some are just designs, but all will be repeated throughout the new spaces in different colors and sizes to support the library’s themes.
 
Another noticeable change is that the Circulation Desk has been downsized and moved from the north side of the lobby to the east side. Adjacent to the Circulation Desk is a self-service area for pick-up of items: Patrons who request materials from the Southern Regional Library Facility (SRLF) or through Interlibrary Loan may now pick up their books from an open shelf and check them out themselves.
 
It’s nice, Parker said, "when we can make it so that you can do what you need to do without having to wait for us to help you. A lot of people come and they just want to talk to somebody. That’s fine; our employees are here. But if you just want to zoom out of here, we make that possible."
 
One of Parker’s trickiest tasks, beginning in 2006, was moving library staff around while the renovation was going on. The library never closed throughout the three-year construction process, which made the relocation of staff a difficult juggling act. Some employees moved to the Kinross and Kinross South buildings adjacent to Lot 32; others moved from the main library floor to new offices downstairs in the lower level.
 
That allowed the actual construction of Phase I to begin in 2008. Phase I involved the renovation of the lower level to create not only new offices for staff in YRL’s access services, collection development, instruction and reference services, but also a spacious study commons for more than 100 users.
 
The space includes open stacks for newspapers and unbound periodicals and self-service cabinets holding frequently used microfiche and maps. The completion and opening of the lower level in June 2010 allowed for Phase II, the construction of new spaces on the main floor devoted entirely to students and faculty.
 
The Phase II project is where YRL’s "collaboration" theme really kicked in: On the north side of the main floor is a huge Research Commons that can accommodate up to 200 users; 23 colorful workstations can be reconfigured for small or large groups, and each one features wireless computing capability and a display screen. The commons area also offers a technology-equipped instructional space for 20 people and a lending service for laptops. Most unique of all: A digital-humanities demonstration area in the commons will serve as a "research lab" for faculty and their graduate students.
 
In the northwest corner are several group-study rooms — each one accommodating six to eight people, many equipped with computer screens — that students will be able to reserve in advance. Unreserved rooms will be available for walk-in use.
 
For library users who prefer a more traditional study space, YRL will offer — for the first time — a formal Reading Room, just inside the front entrance to the left. The glass-enclosed space features wooden tables equipped with power outlets for four to six people, plus comfortable lounge chairs along the west and south walls. There are stacks on the north side of the room for frequently used print materials and a service desk staffed by reference librarians.
 
"Whatever your vision of the research library is, we have it for you," Parker said. "We are trying to demonstrate very, very emphatically that it is not print-versus-electronic. This is our hybrid world, and we’re embracing it. And that’s why we need to have these facilities — because people approach the library in their own way, with their own needs."
 
For the first time, YRL now has a sizeable room for large group meetings. A new presentation space, equipped with two-way video technology, can accommodate 120 in a seminar or can serve as a venue for dance performances, films, lectures and book talks. It’s also the only place on campus that offers simultaneous translation when foreign guests visit the library: A translator in an enclosed booth at the back of the room can broadcast to headphones distributed by the library for real-time translation of a presentation or performance.
 
"The point of this room is to bring people into the library from campus," Parker explained. "So, as Gary [Strong] likes to say, the cost of that is really, really high." She laughed, explaining that in order to use the room, departments need only collaborate with the library.
 
"We can host your event for no charge, as long as the library benefits somehow. That might mean getting library staff involved, or having them learn something from it, or having you tape it. But it’s the chance for us to share whatever that experience is."
 
Adjacent to the presentation space is a permanent exhibit gallery that will display selections from among the UCLA Library’s special collections. The gallery will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will not only provide visitors a chance to see some of the library’s most unique possessions, but will also serve as a place to hold development events.
 
Finally, patrons will be able to enjoy the ambience of Café 451, which takes its name from Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451." (Bradbury wrote the 1953 blockbuster in the basement of the Powell Library Building.) Run by ASUCLA, the café will be open the same hours as YRL and will offer espresso drinks, sandwiches, sushi, salads and cupcakes.
 
The estimated $17 million YRL renovation has been almost entirely paid for by an anonymous, $15 million gift that was donated in 1998 in conjunction with the building’s renaming in honor of former Chancellor Charles E. Young. Additional fundraising will ensure that no renovation funds come out of the UCLA Library’s acquisitions and operations budgets.
 
"It’s important that people understand that we didn’t just do it on a lark," Parker said. "It’s really a vital transformation for this library and every other library. ... Libraries are changing, as is teaching, as is information, as is scholarship. And so in order to support what all of the students and faculty do here, we had to make these big changes.
 
"This will put us back up among all of the top places that aren’t even as advanced as this is," she said. "Despite budget cuts, we’re maintaining our standing as a top-10 research library. That’s our objective."
 
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For more information on the Young Research Library renovation, and to experience a fun "fly-through" of the first-floor design, go here. And for a more historic look at YRL and the origins of the renovation project, check out the exhibition in the College Library Rotunda on the second floor of the Powell Library Building.
 
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