A Library For The New Millennium

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By: Diana T. Barth
Published: 09/15/11

The new $23 million information commons at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy is not your grandmother’s library.

The MMA’s library turned an “important corner” last year. For the first time, library Director Susan S. Berteaux said, more than half of her collection was electronic: 55,000 titles online; 45,000 books on the shelves.

That collection’s new building, formally called the American Bureau of Shipping Information Commons, is reflective of that change.

Even the traditional library shelves look somewhat unfamiliar. Just one row of what appear to be wall panels on the building’s second floor, are marked with a small sign containing call numbers. Press a button under one or more of those signs and a book-lined corridor opens up, allowing for a book to be retrieved.
Instead of being a place for books, the library contains spaces for people. That is because, Ms. Berteaux said, the building was designed for what she called “the millenials,” the students of this new millennium.
While there may be some students who want to find a study space without visual distractions, the new building’s designers learned that most of the millenials want to see and be seen as they work.

“They are very collaborative and like to work together, and solve problems, in groups of two, three, four, five, six,” she said.

Well-lit “carrels” with a flat open space where a map or maritime chart can be unrolled and studied, round tables for group discussion, comfortable chairs and sofas, places to plug-in and settle down, are in every nook and cranny, particularly in the first two floors of the commons, along with small conference rooms, where an advanced seminar can be taught.

The millenials also are used to searchable text and learning in a fast-paced, visual environment.

For example, a “smart” classroom is located on the first floor, within a round, bamboo-covered cylinder that rises several stories inside the commons building. That classroom allows for video streaming, making it the perfect place for MMA cadets to take their required ship familiarization course.

Students can take a virtual tour of the ship as they absorb the lessons they need to know before their first sea term, coming next January.

That room is also set up to record the lessons being taught so that they can be watched or reviewed online.
Along with making computers, printers, and copy machines available, the library has a $2 million ship’s bridge simulator, where a cadet can bring a ship to dock into a harbor, whose mouth and hills are visible from 360 degrees. Next to the simulator is a room where that cadet’s fellows can watch that ship’s progress, and hold a “hot wash” or debriefing, afterward.

An archives room is still in the throes of being set up, but will soon be available for those who want to research Massachusetts maritime history.

A part of the Massachusetts university system, the MMA offers master’s degree programs in emergency management and facilities management, and undergraduate programs in international maritime business, marine engineering, marine safety and environmental protection, and marine transportation, among others.
Aside from making available all of the types of materials a general education institution needs to provide, the MMA puts a great deal of specialized information in electronic format for its students, including, for example, constantly updated and searchable federal, state and local rules and regulations.

Over and above that, however, the library itself “is a laboratory,” Ms. Berteaux said, as well as “an experience.”

There is something to see, or learn, or interact with, everywhere. The building stairwell, from the first to the fourth-floor “Crow’s Nest,” where a classroom, the building’s mechanical room, and some of the best views on campus are located, wraps around a column on which the entire text of nationally renowned maritime author Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,” is reprinted.

That text overlays a outline of a world map, with Antarctica on the first floor and the Arctic on the fourth.
While Ms. Berteaux has been among those working on plans for the library—efforts that included a feasibility study undertaken in 2006-2007—the college’s engineers have also had their input.

The green building is geothermally heated. Forty-eight wells were dug at the start of its construction. Some 500 feet down, she said, water is a fairly constant 50 degrees. That means heating the water to room temperature to warm the library in winter and using it to cool down the building in summer are both energy-efficient.

The use of natural gas, classroom lights that turn on and off by motion sensors are all part of the building, but with green materials. There are no right angles in the building, something that Ms. Berteaux said “drove the builders crazy,” but which takes great advantage of every bit of natural light.

A very efficient stormwater management system has been turned into an outdoor classroom. Students have put dye into the water on the roof and then monitored and tested it as it enters and exits a filtration system.
A panel in the lobby of the building allows students to monitor the structure’s energy use.

With the announcement, made last week, that $500,000 would be available from the state for photovoltaic (solar energy) panels, the library will be the state Department of Capital Asset Management’s only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum-rated building.

The college had planned to use money from the original construction loan for the solar panels, said Rear Admiral Richard G. Gurnon, MMA’s president, but then drilling the wells for the geo-thermal system hit every single rock possible, making that operation more expensive.

However, with the assistance of Senate President Therese Murray, the state’s building agency was persuaded that the addition of those panels would be a useful part of the engineering students’ education, as well as being a model for the state going forward.

That office them made extra funding available.

Not all of the new library project is state-funded, however. The American Bureau of Shipping, for example, the body that surveys and classifies ships, ensuring that they are seaworthy, donated $3.06 million to the project, giving it naming rights to the building.

For anyone else who might be interested, naming rights are still available for some classrooms.

Ms. Berteaux said the library is still a work in progress.


2 Responses to "A Library For The New Millennium"

  1. As a member of the design team that spent more than 3 years on this project, I find it very unfortunate that an article such as this can be written without a single mention of people who envisioned or created the building. Architecture is a profession in which design capability is prized and intellectual property is the most common proof of worth. In the future I hope The Enterprise, and specifically Ms. Barth, will consider architecture in the same light as literature and provide the proper credit to those that deserve it.

  2. Oh, good job Architect guy! You're my hero for all your wonderful work (that I'm sure you got paid for but needed more recognition to suit your vanities) so here's to you! Huzzah! I'm sure the IT folks want some love too so good job to them as well for filling the box you designed with something so useful. Huzzah to them as well! Anyone else feel slighted? How about the engineers that made the building materials? Huzzah! The designer of the geothermal system, huzzah!

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