Update of Chester Fritz library part of larger university plan
Though its timeframe is uncertain, UND is exploring a major renovation of the Chester Fritz Library that could see an investment of about $21 million to bring the building into the digital era.
Updating the library, which has stood in the center of campus since 1962, has long been on the university agenda, but most of the building has gone untouched for decades. The library has now been pulled into a key role within the larger Coulee to Columbia initiative, a piece of the UND strategic plan in its early stages of development that looks to improve the main campus corridor along University Avenue.
It's not yet clear when the final designs for the library renovation will be complete, nor exactly when fundraising will begin. In the last legislative session, lawmakers authorized the university to raise up to $21 million for the project, $7.8 million of which is already accounted for.
Some smaller updates to the library were completed in October 2016 to the tune of about $188,000, bringing a more modern work area to a second-level space flanked by shelves of reference books. Not far from there, workers are installing new carpet this week in a section near the building's reception desks.
The spaces are now markedly different than they were before and show the general direction in which the library might be heading.
Stephanie Walker, the UND dean of libraries and information resources, is the library's chief overseer. She looked out over the renovated study area as she described the push toward digitization being embraced by libraries across the world. With digital archives, Walker said, libraries can be stocked with thousands of books that might otherwise have been beyond their grasp. Other contemporary library amenities might include technology labs for students to use new tools for completing projects or working through classes.
"A library is a hub for learning activity, and that's not going to go away," Walker said. "Librarians, especially at research libraries, we deal with information. That doesn't go away, but the container it's in does—it used to be a book. We still have books, but we also have a heck of a lot of databases now."
That's not to say there isn't a place at the Chester Fritz for books, and many of the stacks have stayed put. But as the library continues to embrace digitization, an increasing number of books will be found in virtual form.
A survey distributed to students a few years ago revealed they were looking for better access to power to charge their laptops and other devices, as well as expanded access to data tools and other modern fixings. Those features are high on the wish list for the upgraded building, as is a general facelift to make the library more aesthetic.
Actual construction could be a ways off, but that's not to say it isn't already happening, at least in a sense. Walker said the library recently built a digital archive called the UND Scholarly Commons to host datasets, departmental histories and other information.
Within about six months of being online, she said the commons, a virtual repository of UND scholars, has accumulated more than 6,000 digitized entries.
"Every geology dissertation done from 1914 until now is in there," Walker said, citing one example of the project's scope. The library has no intention to do away with its rare and historic texts and artifacts, and will likely be expanding its capacity for conservation. But as old meets new, many on the UND campus might soon be acquainted with the past through the lens of the future. That dynamic is underlined in a public library event scheduled for Feb. 21—the "grand opening" of a digital copy of the "History of North Dakota," a classic text written in 1966 by UND historian Elwyn B. Robinson.
Unlike book reveals of the past, this one will take place with the help of a MagicBox, a tool that makes use of a large, touch-sensitive display that allows users to virtually interact with items placed within the clear glass box. Such technology, as well as the digitization that supports it, will hold an increasingly visible place in the library as it continues to develop.
"A lot of things we do now, you don't see in a physical renovation," Walker said, "but those sorts of things are all part of the services now."