Monday, March 25, 2013

JHU: First Impressions

The Eisenhower Library (top), and the Brody Learning Commons (bottom)

Johns Hopkins University is home to several libraries, many of them specialized research libraries that are used for groundbreaking medical researchers. This being the case, they use a balance of physical and electronic materials to meet the needs of their patrons. They have found that many students prefer the physical print book to the electronic e-book, so their main building still holds the air of a traditional academic library with its labyrinthine stacks, but their recent addition has brought a distinctly modern lift to the architecture. The library is largely open and has areas that contain natural light as well as providing students darker and more secluded areas for long-term studying - these even feature natural cell phone signal blockage to promote concentration (yes, these spots are underground).

Near the front doors to the campus is a large digital screen with a Microsoft Kinect perched on the top, which students can use to play a round of games while waiting for their friends to arrive (when I was there they were playing a Tron game), and when there are no students in front it shows library news and updates. This integration of technology is seen repeatedly in the building, from digital displays on the walls to special projectors which project onto white walls in the collaboration rooms for students to connect to their computers and share their work.

The entire library has robust wifi throughout, and almost every table I saw sported a surge protector for students to charge electronic devices, and there are many pockets set up for collaborative learning. One of the first things I noticed in the library was that it was packed full of students. Some were in the stacks, others had their books and laptops spread out on tables, and others were puzzling over intense problems which floated on the walls like something from the future. For all the flash and dazzle, though, the students seem remarkably at home with their laptops and coffee cups. It's a building that invites a long study session as well as social interaction, a lifeline to knowledge as well as the thrill of independent discovery.

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