Library 2.0

The new James B. Hunt Jr. Library offers a complete reboot of the traditional library to ISE students

Libraries have always been known as large buildings filled with books, books and more books. Everyone in the place has their head down and the only noises are the echo of a distant cough or some chair sliding on the hard tile floors. Well, the new James B. Hunt Library on Centennial Campus is a complete reboot from the traditional library. The 220,000-square-foot structure has received global attention for its state-of-the-art technologies and futuristic feel, attributes that will attract the best and brightest faculty and students from around the world.

Let’s start with the architecture. The lead designer, Snøhetta, is one of the premier firms on the globe, responsible for the new Library of Alexandria, Egypt and the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York. Their cutting edge thinking included beautiful solar fins, rooftop solar panels that warm the water, innovative chilled beam and radiant panel systems that heat and cool the building, green roofs and the Rain Garden which filter storm water runoff, and an open design that floods the building with natural light. In fact, the building has been designed for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver environmental rating.

The interior, unlike most libraries, is open and encourages conversation. That’s right; talk is encouraged and so is writing on walls. There are nearly 100 rooms that ISE students can reserve to work together on projects, with screens to display work from their laptops and the room-sized whiteboards formerly known as walls.

Kevin McCann has discovered the perfect place to fulfill his studying needs. The senior in industrial engineering knows that the new Hunt Library can suit his many moods. “The great part about the Hunt Library is how many different types of work environments are offered,” McCann said. “I can work on homework alone with some background noise of other groups talking quietly, I can study for a test in my own room in complete silence or I can work with a group at a large table to accomplish different tasks all at once and talk through the steps we need to accomplish.” This is because the library offers multiple types of study areas; private rooms and cubicles, open multi-seat common areas and computer-ready collaboration tables.

It is said that first impressions of the new James B. Hunt Library will leave you speechless. Although the first words are typically “where are the books?”

Hunt Library Book Bot
Books are loaded and unloaded onto the book bot at the James B. Hunt Library. <em>Photo by Marc Hall</em>

Where are the Books?

The vast majority, about 1.5 million volumes, are in the climate-controlled basement, packed in over 18,000 industrial storage bins stacked four-stories high. Requiring 1/9 the space of conventional shelving, the bookBot helps transform this 21st-century library from a storage facility into a rich environment of learning and collaborative spaces. A visitor simply finds the book at a computer station then watches behind a glass wall as the bookBot locates the appropriate bin and expands its rotating arms and hands that remove the bin. The bookBot delivers the bin to one of the few humans working in the place. The correct book is removed, scanned and check-out is complete. It takes about five minutes.

While the technology underlying high-density automated shelving has been used in large-scale industries such as automotive manufacturing and textiles for many years, it is now becoming a transformational tool for pioneering research libraries.

An accompanying 21st century Virtual Browse system allows users to see a virtual shelf of all items related in subject, including the growing number of electronic books in the collection. This view can be expanded beyond the Libraries’ collection to encompass the Triangle Research Libraries Network and other collections available for request and delivery.

For those who still like to browse through the shelves, the Hunt Library offers selected collections on open shelving for browsing, including the most recent publications in engineering, computer science and textiles. Here ISE faculty and students will also find select print journals. On the second floor, open shelves in the Rain Garden Reading Lounge and Quiet Reading Room hold classic works in engineering, computer science, and textiles, core reference works in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, a science fiction browsing collection, and books published by NC State University faculty.

The library is named after former North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt Jr., who holds two degrees from NC State. “The Hunt Library says that something important is happening at this university,” Hunt said. “It also says that NC State is one of the leading universities in the nation and in the world in providing the best opportunities for students to learn.”

The library is also home to innovative spaces for visualization. These include simulation and virtual environments, gaming and interactive computing, and video conferencing.

A Library for the People

(NC State Engineering Magazine – Spring/Summer 2013)
Hunt Library - Seating
The Hunt Library holds more than books — it’s also home to some of North Carolina’s most prominent policy research organizations.

One of those entities is the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science, which funds groups and individuals that want to use those fields to improve the economy and public welfare. Another is the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI), which was founded by Gov. Hunt in 2002.

IEI’s first home was inside the Kenan Institute, which helped the fledgling “think and do tank” grow during its early years. Now, IEI works with communities across North Carolina to devise solutions to the state’s most pressing challenges in health care, the economy, the environment and education.

“People from all over the world will be visiting the Hunt Library,” said Dr. Ruben Carbonell, the Frank Hawkins Kenan Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering who leads the Kenan Institute. “And all that traffic brings an excellent opportunity to meet new people and learn more about what they’re doing and how we can build programs around those activities.”

IEI’s presence in the Hunt Library includes the Emerging Issues Commons, one of the most attention-grabbing spots in the building. Set up as an interactive multimedia exhibit, the space encourages visitors to learn more about the innovative ways in which North Carolina is preparing for the future.

“My dream for this library is that the people of North Carolina will have at their fingertips the kind of information they need to collaborate with the citizens in the state’s 100 counties,” Hunt said. “I want them to develop ways to build the economy, improve education, and provide greater opportunities for the people.”