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April 9, 2011

Camosun College's library renovations won the attention of the BC Libraries Association, and earned the 2010 Merit Prize for Library Buildings at a recent BCLA awards ceremony. "We were hugely impressed by this project," says BCLA awards chair Ken Cooley. "It's amazing how far the Camosun team managed to stretch every available dollar. The end result is a complete transformation that seems incredible, considering the limited budget and tight timelines. That's why this project stood out and made us say, 'WOW!' "

Camosun Library and Learning Commons - Lansdowne.

All photos courtesy of CHLa: Alec Watson, Digital Media Artist, MA Photographic Arts

College Librarian Sybil Harrison says the project was labelled a renovation, but was in fact a complete revitalization of the college's two libraries. Library usage has nearly doubled at both campuses. "Every single seat is taken for most of the day. Even on weekends, the libraries are packed for hours," says Harrison.

Harrison is delighted to receive the building merit prize, which validates the project among peers from BC's public, academic and health libraries. "This award is particularly gratifying, because it acknowledges how we've managed to integrate so many services with high-quality spaces at both campuses. Students need places where they can meet in groups, contemplate in quiet, access learning supports and technology, and even grab a snack."

Photo courtesy of CHLa: Alec Watson, Digital Media Artist, MA Photographic Arts

Learning libraries...the space in between

The libraries still hold an impressive collection of learning resources, but now they also provide an intangible extra—that space in between. Harrison says, "Research shows that while important things happen in the physical settings of classrooms, lecture halls, labs and trades shops, there's a whole lot of other learning, dreaming and inspiration that happens in a library. I like to call that the 'space in between.' These are the spaces that inspire, motivate and let people collaborate and contemplate. All of that can happen now at the Lansdowne and Interurban Learning Commons."

Photo courtesy of CHLa: Alec Watson, Digital Media Artist, MA Photographic Arts

Collaboration was key to success

Harrison credits much of the project success to architect Paul Hammond of Chow Low Hammond Architects Inc. "I think Paul's approach worked very well during the consultation and design phases. He really listened to our community, and incorporated our ideas into the final design. Paul was very respectful and supportive of what we were doing," says Harrison.

Hammond is equally complimentary of the Camosun team. "Everyone at Camosun was completely involved, committed, enthusiastic and open-minded. We all knew the budget and timeline were tight, so we aspired to do great things and transform the space in spite of constraints. Sybil always put the student needs first, and that meant we could be creative and reveal spaces and views previously obscured by walls, offices and shelves.

Putting students and books on par

"Historically, libraries centred around the book," says Hammond. "The renovation project aimed to put the student and the book on par by placing the lounging areas close to windows and by reducing the footprint of the administrative areas. We introduced a wide variety of study spaces, and built in flexibility for future uses." Hammond's design introduced modern building materials, brought in more natural light, and arranged the collections to reveal outside views. He also introduced display spaces to showcase work from Camosun's Visual Arts and Fine Furniture students. Finally, extensive use of glass partitions and bold use of colour allows students to feel the buzz before they even step through the doors.

New personality and renewed pride

"There's lots going on in the libraries now, but the activities have a different quality than the cafeteria or other public, mostly social spaces," says Harrison. "Someone said you can almost hear the learning happening; you can feel a buzz, and it's a buzz about students pursuing their learning. And, with services front and centre, our learners make the connection between finding support and achieving academic success." Harrison admits she still gets emotional when she walks into the libraries. "It might sound goofy, but sometimes I just say, 'Wow! Look at this place.' I still feel so very proud."

Last updated: April 8, 2011 1:42 pm

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