Once upon a time you went to the library to borrow a book and obeyed the cardinal rule of silence.
Consider that the abridged version; now here’s the unabridged version. Libraries have branched out, and The Wallace Center at RIT is no exception.
Sure, the Wallace Library—with its popular sidekick, Java Wally’s—is still the hub, but the center offers a multi-media aspect that adds credence to its logo: “The heart and intellectual nexus of the institute.”
The facility offers a variety of services: printed books and e-books, journals, public computers, international access, reference librarian staff, scholarly publishing, online learning support, faculty orientation and development, digital media library, Web development, video production and broadcasting.
“Most people don’t realize the RIT SportsZone and ETC Production are part of our facilities,” says Lynn Wild, the center’s associate provost. “We are the future of academic libraries. I call it a library on steroids, with more than 3,000 visitors a day.”
Wild helped guide the merger of Teaching and Learning Services and RIT Libraries into the formation of The Wallace Center in 2009. Although the mission had always been to provide academic support and services to RIT students, faculty, staff and alumni, the learning is active and collaborative—and happens in adaptive spaces.
This tends to bring out creativity in both students and faculty, according to Wild. They engage at a deep level. And they become creators of knowledge rather than just passive receivers. So a library is not just a building full of books anymore but a means to connect people and information.
“Some visitors still need to touch, hold and smell a book,” says Shirley Bower, director of RIT Libraries. “We offer this sensory opportunity but we also provide a personal connection. We have 90 people on staff and touch every discipline; there’s a librarian here for every college. So students form very close relationships with the librarians and work with them during their entire educational experience at RIT.”
Each floor houses a unique element to the center. The first-floor centerpiece at Wallace is the tropical saltwater reef aquarium that is filled with coral and colorful inhabitants such as the cheerful-looking yellow and blue tangs.
On the second floor is the prestigious Melbert B. Cary Jr. Graphic Arts Collection, which features books and artifacts that document the history of bookmaking, from cuneiform tablets to modern e-readers—a span of 4,500 years. The Cary Collection also includes several historic hand presses in working condition.
The next floor above is the RIT Archives and Special Collections, which houses memorabilia and artifacts of historical value to RIT—including the notable Elmer Messner Collection of editorial cartoons. Throughout the year, RIT archivist Becky Simmons fills Wallace exhibition spaces, such as The Gallery for RIT History and Art on the first floor, with rare and original pieces from the collection.
According to Rob Fain, communication coordinator for The Wallace Center, the library is still firmly rooted as the “place to be.”
“Students have access to computers everywhere and yet they still choose to come to the library and use our terminals. Why is that? Because we provide a neutral place where they feel comfortable and can have face-to-face conversations with their peers and librarian staff. They can stay here hours on end without interruption.”
Wild agrees. “Our facilities at The Wallace Center are high technology, but we’re high touch. We have more than a million items that can be downloaded from our resources but we are also—at the core—a library with books. That will never change.”
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