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SUNY Schenectady to overhaul school library

SUNY Schenectady to overhaul school library

Over $10 million project will create central location for numerous student services
SUNY Schenectady to overhaul school library
The entrance to and exit from SUNY Schenectady's Begley Library as seen Thursday, May 2.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

Begley Library at SUNY Schenectady County Community College is set for a major renovation to convert the dated space into a hub of activity and base for academic supports.

The library will be closed all of next school year as construction crews gut and then fully renovate the space, constructed in the late-1970s and little touched since, creating what the school is calling a learning commons. After the renovation, the college will consolidate various student services – now scattered throughout the college – into the learning commons and open a new cafe as an extra enticement.

The college’s writing center will move from the fifth floor of Elston Hall to Begley; the career center will be moved from second floor Elston Hall to Begley; math, computer and science study labs will find a home in the library; a new archive room will allow the school to show off its collections.

The overall project is expected to cost just over $10 million, largely split between state and county governments. The Schenectady County Legislature has earmarked $4.2 million for the project.

“It’s one of the most exciting things we’ve done in a long time,” Penny Haynes, the college's provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, said last week. “It’s no longer just a library... Everything will be in one place.”

The overhaul aims to modernize the library overall appearance and layout. A cut out of the second floor and installation of a new window will foster a more open space and different types of furniture will foster collaboration among students.

The academic support spaces will be organized in an open space, providing flexibility in how they are used and offering students one place to access tutoring in a range of subjects.

“You can set it up for a lot of different activities,” Haynes said. “You don't see a lot of walls.”

While the library is closed next year, librarians will be based out of a pair of classrooms in the main campus building, providing research help and other basic library services. Most books will be stored off site and requests will be filled as they come in, albeit at a slower pace. College officials said Taylor Auditorium and the hallway that connects the music school to the main part of campus will remain open during construction.

The SUNY Schenectady Foundation just launched a campaign to raise $2.5 million, with $500,000 supporting the library project and another $2 million bolstering a variety of scholarships – which would lift the college's annual scholarship allotment from $200,000 to $300,000.

The college's three full-time and six part-time librarians are looking forward to improvements to help make their “side of campus” more of a draw for students, said library director Jacquie Keleher.

Keleher said students largely use the current library for its computer stations – and classic research basics – but that the overhaul will provide more centralized academic help, better study space and the social draw of a cafe.

By centralizing the academic supports in the library, Keleher said it will enable students to be far more efficient with their study time. There are a lot of distractions for a student trying to shuttle between the library and the writing center, she said.

“You might not think that is far, but it's far,” Keleher said of the walk between the library and Elston Hall's fifth floor. “It's a lot easier to walk across this space than it is across campus.”

The improvements appear much needed if the old orange carpeting on the second floor is any indication. New shelving will hold a somewhat slimmed book collection as librarians continue to weed out little used books. The update will also include a library-wide technology update.

If the update is a success it will bring more students and more noise to Begley. But the head librarian didn't seem to mind.

“I like to call it academic noise,” Keleher said.

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