Emerging from the quiet zone

Wallace Center has evolved into more than ‘just a building full of books’

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A. Sue Weisler

Rujul Shah, who hails from India and is completing her master’s degree in electrical engineering at RIT, says she often studies in the Wallace Library. “It’s where I go to escape the lab for a while; sometimes I even work on the community puzzle in the library because it relaxes me.”


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.”

Did you know…

  • The Wallace Center is the second largest employer of students on campus.
  • The Wallace Library houses 450,000 volumes, 100,000 electronic books, 35,000 electronic journals and 100 public computers.
  • Be quiet—only on the third and fourth floors of the library. The first and second floors are designated collaborative and talking is encouraged.
  • Claims to fame: The Wallace Center is home to a self-portrait etching by Rembrandt, four pages of the Gutenberg Bible and the pelt of Spirit, a Bengal tiger who was the university’s mascot.
  • The Cary Graphic Arts Collection houses hand presses from the 19th century to the 1960s—still working and used for demonstrations and in-house printing.
  • The Wallace Library opened its doors in 1968 and is named for its benefactors, Charles F. and Florence Murray Wallace. Mrs. Wallace graduated from the institute’s domestic science department in 1907. Her husband was a chemist who joined forces with Martin F. Tiernan in 1913 to invent the Wallace and Tiernan chlorinator for public water treatment—which is still sold worldwide.