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The Designing Libraries for the 21st Century conference begins in full tomorrow at the Hunt Library of NC State University in Raleigh. Today, I attended the day-long technology pre-conference, where I had the pleasure of catching up with former colleague, Lauren Pressley, as we were both assigned to the “blue group” set of breakout sessions. First of all, the visualization technology is spectacular. It is Las Vegas-style size and quality – more and bigger screens and monitors than you have ever seen in your life. Together with the bleeding edge furnishings, I would describe it as a “shock and awe” experience, i.e. a deliberate overstatement to make the point that this an entirely different kind of library.

Perhaps even more impressive than the technology itself, was the planning process that brought it about. They knew they wanted to do something that had never been done before. They blew right through traditional percentages allocated to media and infrastructure. They received no additional funding for staffing of this 220,000 sq ft building. Yet they let none of that stop them as they cajoled, persuaded, inspired, partnered, and used every creative funding technique heretofore known, and then some, to realize their dream. And realize it, they did.

I was most impressed by how well they know their patrons. Engineering and the other disciplines for which NC State is known are all about technology. They wanted to create a library that goes beyond “learning spaces” and create a building that is a research tool itself. Rather than traditional libraries that collect the products of scholarship, they wanted to be involved in the research process right from the beginning so they created spaces where faculty and graduate students could experience what they were trying to create, as they created it. That is good stuff.

I was struck by the clarity of their overall mission, to position the library as a competitive advantage to the university. That is as clear and unifying to them as our “helping our students, faculty and staff succeed” is to ZSR. And yet, I’m still trying to decide how much of this would be transferrable to WFU and ZSR. We are such a different institution. If the Hunt Library were brought to Wake Forest, it would look like a space ship had landed. That is neither good nor bad, just profoundly different.