Libraries are the heart of a college campus, and at Wilson College that heart has been the John Stewart Memorial Library for over eight decades. The library was built in 1925 and named in memory of the Honorable John Stewart, Justice of the Supreme Court (1905 - 1920) of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, through the donation of his brother George, both Wilson College trustees. The building served the college well as the collections grew. By 1961 the collections had reached 72,000 volumes - far exceeding the original 42,000 volume capacity of the building, necessitating the construction of an addition. T
he addition was completed in 1961 and it added over 70 study carrels, new microfilm and micro card facilities and materials, a listening library as well as the needed stacks and study areas. This is the library that current students of Wilson know. Wilson has made only limited improvements to the physical facilities of the library since this last addition in 1961, and the library world has moved on again into the electronic age. E-books and databases are replacing stacked volumes, and students’ access to information and research are altogether different than decades ago.The Present Condition
It has now been 50 years since the addition was built, 86 years since the main library was dedicated, and the library is in serious need of repair and renovation. In winter 2011, steam pipes in the heating system cracked, causing extensive damage to the library’s walls and floors. The damage was so destructive that parts of the library – bathrooms, computer lab, seminar rooms, and periodical storage room - had to be declared out of bounds for students and the public. In May, the decision was made to close the John Stewart Memorial Library and relocate its services. Working now out of temporary quarters in Sarah’s Coffeehouse, the college continues to provide library and research services to students. Even though the library building itself is closed while waiting renovation, books and videos are being retrieved for students on demand, with a maximum 24 hour turnaround time. Faculty reserves are available at the circulation desk. The library is open for the same 86 hours each week, with computers and printing available around the clock. While a solution, this is a temporary one at best.The Future
- John Stewart Memorial Library
Wilson College is now engaging in a community wide process and study for the complete redesign of the John Stewart Memorial Library. Contrary to contemporary thought suggesting a shrinking role for libraries, thanks in part to the growth of digital media, we know that our library is a vital link in the teaching/learning process. The role of academic libraries and librarians, instead of shrinking, is morphing into an even more vital link in the teaching/learning process. While the importance of their role as warehouses of book and periodical collections is being re-evaluated at many institutions of higher education, new academic libraries continue to be built and older libraries renovated to meet the changing needs of today’s educators and learners.
These new academic library spaces are known by various names – information commons, learning commons, centers for teaching and learning, learning support centers. Librarians are joined in these spaces by IT professionals, tutoring services, writing specialists. Both quiet study space for individuals and noisier, group study space are now considered reasonable expectations in academic libraries along with soft space and comfortable furniture flexibly arranged. Libraries remain at the heart of campus life.
Today, planning is underway at Wilson for the redesign of the John Stewart Memorial Library. Academic and student services have begun program development for the library’s re-conceptualization as a Learning Commons, offering facilities for information literacy and technology, academic tutoring, group and individual study, career development, and faculty/staff professional development. Wilson College is well-positioned for the renovation of the library under the direction its new president, Dr. Barbara Mistick, whose experience as the President and Director of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh will provide excellent leadership and guidance in the process.