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O’Leary Library prepares for facelift with digital media major on track

Director of Libraries George Hart plans to upgrade O’Leary Library (George DeLuca/Connector)

George DeLuca
Connector Staff

With director Mitch Shuldman and key associate John Callahan about to retire, students, faculty, and staff are wondering about the future of the Media Center at the O’Leary Library on south campus. The center’s future will be driven by two variables, the ongoing library revitalization project and the finalization of a standalone digital media program.

The O’Leary Library is in the midst of a two-pronged transition that will return over 170,000 books to the south campus, while it expands and consolidates its digital media capability.

Over the last 38 years, UMass Lowell Associate Provost Dr. Charlotte Mandell has been an eyewitness to the growing availability of technology on campus.

Dr. Charlotte Mandell

Dr. Charlotte Mandell

“Obviously, the world’s changed. We have projectors in every classroom now, and most of the media required for courses can be put online and streamed via computers and handheld technology,” said Mandell.

George Hart, director of libraries for UMass Lowell, is currently working with UMass Lowell officials, library partners, and an architectural firm to upgrade the functionality of O’Leary. A focus on the Media Center is central to this effort.

“While two valued employees are retiring, the library will continue to offer a full range of digital media services. We will not be reducing the type of services offered or when they are available to students and other members of the campus community. Services will continue to be offered in the same location,” Hart said.

To help deal with a constantly changing technological landscape, the library depends on its relationship with the UMass Lowell IT Department, which oversees the university’s technical infrastructure. IT personnel were crucial to implementing both the new Mac computer lab in room 140, and the collaboration computer space in the library administration office. Similar improvements in nearby spaces are planned.

“140” offers a top shelf A/V capability and provides 32 additional workstations, each equipped with the full Adobe digital media suite. The Digital Media program and other academic departments utilizes the teaching lab. It’s also open late night to students of all disciplines.

400_O'Leary_3Step one of Hart’s revitalization plan is to “democratize” the facility. To start with, Hart is about to turn back the tide on an ill advised plan, which moved thousands of books from O’Leary to the Lydon Library on the north campus. This has been a sore spot between Library staff and Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences faculty. The resolution brings the misplaced books back to O’Leary beginning this summer.

Step two will provide more open space on the first two levels of the library to connect departments more efficiently and incorporate some new spatial elements. Hart said he wants to provide “bigger, better, faster, and stronger” space, service, and support. Mandell agreed. “Ultimately, there will be a wide range of services over a wide range of space,” said Mandell.

Step three is to make the Media Center a more visible hub by opening it up to the adjacent spaces. Library Coordinator Mehmed Ali’s charge is to fast track the Media Center transition plan. Ali’s goal is to maintain the operation’s current quality of service, while facilitating its transition into the grand plan for the facility.

Mandell elaborated on Hart’s plan to “democratize” the Media Center, “This means there will be more places where people can work, and more people who have skill sets to help the people working.” The program will be geared towards accommodating students and faculty by meeting them at their level of expertise, while expanding the base of digital media services. For example, enticements may be created to encourage the more serious media students to assist those with less experience.

400_O'Leary_2Step four involves the incorporation of the fledgling digital media program, which is soon to become a major. “The digital media program has preliminary approval from the faculty senate, the university Board of Trustees, and the President’s Office. Once it’s approved, we think it’ll attract a lot of students,” Mandell said.

Julie Nash, PhD , Associate Dean in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, added, “Our next step is to flesh out the details and submit the proposal through the same channels again. The university has been enthusiastic about moving in this direction and students are clamoring for it. We already have 60 and growing enrolled in the minor. We have every expectation that we’ll be able to offer this major soon, and with luck, to our incoming fall 2017 students,” said Nash.

As the Digital Media program continues to grow, so will its association with the Media Center. Dr. Mandell expects two approaches to Media Center operations, one that supports an expanding digital media program and one that serves faculty and students in other disciplines and programs university wide. To meet growing needs, the Media Center will expand by merging and consolidating with programming in adjacent and remote spaces.

The overall library improvements project will involve some wall removal, adding short mobile stacks throughout the facility, and repurposing various spaces to create a more connected and efficient environment with a comfortable and inviting atmosphere.

For more information about the O’Leary Library revitalization project, please stay tuned to the UML libraries website. Hart has provided an online SUGGESTION BOX for anyone who has suggestions or questions about the program.

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