The University of Texas at Austin
  • Students get a room of their own in the PCL

    By Travis Willmann
    Travis Willmann
    Published: Oct. 18, 2007

    The University Federal Credit Union Student Learning Commons opened in the Perry-Castaneda Library to much fanfare in August, and already the room has become a regular comfort zone for library users.

    The space, as imagined by the planners, architects and designers, is drawing in students in droves–so much so, in fact, that there is emerging a polite competition for the more desirable spots.

    “I normally sit over by the windows,” says geography junior Matt Turner, pointing to a row of armchairs bathed in sunlight. “But I got to the library a little late, so I’m here instead today.”

    Not that “here” is all that bad. The renovation of the room–its first since the building’s dedication in 1977–has allowed for the replacement of unfriendly ’70s institutional furniture with plush leather chairs and soft, comfortable sofas. The cold fluorescent lights have given way to the softer light of floating fixtures in playful shapes and contrasting sizes that washes over geometric patterns in the new flooring. High metal shelving disappeared to make room for low profile storage that effectively opens up the cavernous 11,000-square-foot space. There’s even an area for those individuals or groups that need a bit of separation from the crowd in the form of asymmetrically arranged study “pods”–mesh-enclosed areas with tables and chairs which are effective either for interaction or solitude.

    “I used to study on the 3rd floor (of PCL),” says Turner, “but this is more accessible and not as cramped or confining. And I like the social atmosphere of the room. It’s not as quiet, but it’s more relaxing to be able to look around for a moment and take a break from whatever I’m working on.”

    The University Federal Credit Union’s $500,000 gift provided the funds necessary to transform the former periodicals room into a modern community study area while maintaining academic resources, upgrading infrastructure and technology and increasing the available study space in the room.

    “It turned out better than we could have imagined,” says Libraries Director Fred Heath. “The physical changes resulting from the renovation reflect a kind of philosophical change in the approach to learning by allowing for a more communal and social environment.”

    “The best way for libraries to remain significant and viable is to adapt to patrons’ needs and desires,” says Heath. “I think we’ve done that with the help of the Credit Union.”

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