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A Tale of Two Libraries: A Capacity Comparison Between Lutnick and Magill Libraries

Since January 2018, Haverford College has been constructing a new library from the skeleton of the late Magill Library. The new facility will be called Lutnick Library, named after Haverford alumnus and donor Howard Lutnick ‘83, and it is expected to open in the autumn of 2019.

This construction period has left the college without a large-scale library to serve as a central destination for studying and researching.  For the time being, these activities have been supported by the existing White Science Library and the temporary conversion of the college’s oft-vacant Founders Hall into individual and group study spaces, as well as a computing cluster. The fractured state of study spaces on campus has led many students to consider how these spaces should serve Haverford and what it means to build a new library in a rapidly digitizing world.

Haverford College juniors David Canada and Farid Azar Léon are among these ranks, speaking with me about how this interstitial time between libraries has structured their thinking with respect to the function of a college library in the modern era.

When asked how he feels about studying in the temporary facilities in Founders Hall, Canada told me it has helped him to understand the multiple functions a library must perform in order to be a productive space for as many students as possible: “I actually like studying in Founders. It’s nice that we’re using the building for something other than random talks and dances, and it’s a good mix of computers, [individual] carrels, and collaborative spaces, with a designated quiet room. I feel like no matter what work I need to do — whether I want to just read with friends or if I need to lock in alone and write for three hours — the space seems to be able to accommodate that.”

Azar Léon agreed, adding, “[this period] makes me think that, for Haverford at least, a good library needs to be flexible and allow students a choice in terms of what sorts of spaces are available for them.”

It’s conversations like these which have led me to study how the breakdown of individual versus group seating in the upcoming Lutnick Library compares with the same breakdown in its predecessor, Magill Library. By “individual” seating I mean seats intended for students to work independently — like carrels and computers — whereas by “group” seating I mean spaces designed for concurrent usage by multiple students — like tables, classrooms, and lounge areas.

The total capacities of the two libraries are comparable — Lutnick seats 569 students at full capacity, while Magill could hold 515 — but the way these seats are divided into group and individual seats at 100% capacity is strikingly different:

Magill clearly had a greater emphasis on individual seating with just under 45% of its seats having been dedicated individual study spaces, while Lutnick at maximum capacity has only 99 seats designated for individuals — a slim 17.3%. The inverse is true as well: Lutnick Library supports up to 470 students in its collaborative, group spaces, ensuring that students like Azar Léon and Canada will (hopefully) always have spaces to share. The singular worry here is the individual seats in Lutnick: of these 99 available seats, only 79 are carrels, and it is unclear how many of them will be reserved for seniors writing theses.

These numbers come from the maximum capacities, though, and (besides exams days) one would have been hard-pressed to find a day when every seat in Magill was full, so the same may be easily assumed for Lutnick Library: simply put, students don’t use library facilities to capacity, but rather only to a comfortable capacity, often occupying large group study spaces as individuals or in pairs.

Accordingly, to understand how Lutnick will operate on a day-to-day basis, it is important to subject these numbers to some constraints, considering how much of each type of seating will be available in Lutnick Library if we assume that not all group seating is filled to capacity. If we consider the same data as above, assuming now that each group study space is being occupied at 50% capacity (such that group spaces for pairs of students are now considered individual seating instead), then we develop somewhat of a different picture:

Again, we have relatively comparable numbers in terms of total capacities: Magill could comfortably seat 373 students, while Lutnick will likely seat comfortably about 334. The meaningful discrepancy comes again in what types of seats are available: Lutnick retains its emphasis on group seating, while the data for Magill suggests that the usage patterns with which students may be familiar from before Magill’s closure lean more heavily on seats for individual students working alone.

If we repeat this process of considering comfortable capacities by now supposing each group space is used at 25% capacity then we find the following figures:

Here, then, we see that at a more minimal capacity, Lutnick does tend towards individual seats, but now its capacity becomes noticeably lower than Magill’s — at such a comfortable capacity, Magill could seat 308 students, while Lutnick will seat 232. Composing all of the above data together, we have the following trends:

Two observations are immediately apparent:

  1. Because of its emphasis on individual seats, Magill was a library more amenable to comfortable capacities than Lutnick will be, and
  2. Lutnick has a more holistic focus on group seating and all of the forms of collaboration and community which come with such a focus.

There are essentially two ways to read this data, embodied by the pair of observations above. It is certainly possible (and perhaps even likely) that during periods of widespread, intensive study, Lutnick Library may falter, failing to provide enough seats for all of the students looking to “lock in alone and write” like David Canada; but it is beyond likely that in the day-to-day cases, Lutnick will provide a space of broad community and shared experience.

Lutnick Library will be a building which gives primacy to new forms of collaborative learning, emboldened by a series of technological systems, and although the sacrifices it makes in privileging these aspects will certainly be felt, it is quite possible that on a daily basis the library will succeed in meeting the needs of the community.

As a graduating senior, I assess Haverford’s future library with a peculiar cocktail of bitterness and longing: my final semesters will have been spent in the purgatorial study spaces of Founders Hall, feeling myself in some ways forgotten by the college as it turns towards a new generation of students.

Nonetheless, the data speaks for itself — Lutnick Library will be a varied and robust building, striving to foster an intimate and dense academic community. Like the college community it will support, it may fail to adapt at times, it may overlook individuals, and it may even become antiquated, but it will also embody a strong commitment to the rich collaboration which is at the heart of so much of Haverford’s academic and social patterns. Either way, one thing is for sure: it will have a lot of group study spaces.

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