President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
December 5, 2001
Libraries have traditionally been at the heart of a great university. They are both repositories of knowledge collected over many centuries and the incubators for new ideas. They are quiet and solitary places where students and faculty go to seek information, to read and write, and to think. In the last twenty years, however, libraries have been changing rapidly in response to the information revolution. Computers have profoundly affected the ways in which students seek information worldwide, the format in which they receive information and the ways in which they store information. These changes guarantee that the library of the 21st century will look very different from that of the last century. Two new campus facilities illustrate the ways in which Princeton is responding to these changes.
Thanks to a generous gift from Dennis Keller ’63, chair and chief executive officer of DeVry Inc., and a University Trustee, we recently opened the Friend Center for Engineering Education which includes a new library for the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Designed by the distinguished architect Henry Cobb of the architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners of New York, the Friend Center is a beautiful structure attached to the Computer Science Building on William Street. The multi-tiered library features access to electronic journals and more than 2,000 electronic books. Every seat is wired for power and a special room has been set aside with a scanner, CD burner, and Zip drive to allow students to incorporate digital content in their classroom assignments and special projects.
The Friend Center is much more than a library. The classrooms it contains promote the kinds of collaborative work that are essential in the science and engineering disciplines. At night it becomes the gathering place for budding engineers, as well as students in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities who are drawn to a study space that is both comfortable and wired for easy access to the Web. This is exactly what Dennis Keller and University Librarian Karin Trainer and her staff envisioned: the Friend Center as a magnet that would promote understanding of how technology can enhance our daily lives, and how it can work in the future. Moreover, the benefits from Friend extend beyond the library and teaching spaces in the new facility. Because the engineering library collection has been moved out of the engineering quadrangle, and because the center includes extensive new classroom space, we have been able to convert significant space in the E-Quad to meet laboratory needs.
At the November Board of Trustees meeting I had the great pleasure of announcing a second gift from a University Trustee in support of our libraries. Peter Lewis ’55, chair of The Progressive Corporation, has given the University $60 million that will allow us to construct a new library for the sciences. The University has engaged the renowned architect Frank Gehry to design the new facility on the corner of Washington Road and Ivy Lane in the heart of what has become the science quadrant of campus. The new library will connect underground to the existing mathematics and physics libraries and will consolidate the collections of the Departments of Chemistry, Molecular Biology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Geosciences. This will reverse a long-standing practice of distributing the science libraries within individual departments, a practice that has become increasingly illogical as science has become more inter-disciplinary. For example the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, which is under construction near the new library, will house faculty from chemistry, physics, computer science, chemical engineering and molecular biology, reflecting the ways in which a new field can overrun traditional disciplinary boundaries. You have only to consider a recent course approved by the faculty called “Microbial Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology” to gain a sense of the growing significance of cross-discipline research to teaching and scholarship.
The new library will bring together a revolutionary architect and an exciting challenge to design a 21st century library capable of adapting to the rapidly changing landscape in science publishing and information retrieval. As at the Friend Center, the new science library will contain modern and flexible classrooms and study spaces for students, with easy access to the University network. We will move our increasingly popular Digital Map and Geospatial Information Center from its current location in Guyot Hall to the new building. It will also be the home for our Education Technology Center, a unit within the Office of Information Technology that works with faculty to develop computer tools for integrating information technology into our curriculum. This group also is developing distance learning courses to serve better the educational interests of our alumni. The new library will have the added advantage of freeing up space in the departments that is now used for books and journals for conversion into new offices and research laboratories.
The Friend Center and the new science library will enhance measurably the experience of undergraduates in science and engineering courses. They will provide students with easily accessible education about the latest technological tools—tools that facilitate the collaborative approach to problem solving, which is part of the culture of these disciplines. Both the Friend Center and the new library made possible by the gift from Peter Lewis will assure that information flows beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries to nourish our teaching and research endeavors.