Boyden Library for the 21st Century

The community gathered on Saturday, April 16 to dedicate the newly renovated Boyden Library.  Here are excerpts from my remarks at the event.

I want to start by thanking the many people: Trustees, who have stepped up with many other donors to raise funds; ARC, who once again has designed a beautiful building for Deerfield; and the Library Research Committee, who defined and shaped the library. It’s great to be celebrating what we all built together.

Deerfield may occasionally struggle to beat Choate on Boyden’s fields, but we schooled them with the Boyden Library. On a fall tour of Choate’s new Lanphier Center—which houses many of the progressive functions currently in Boyden—my counterpart lamented that their library had become a collateral casualty: apparently it’s quiet… even for a library… or a tomb.

LibraryDPNOurs has never been more alive: this winter term’s research requests were up 56% over last year… in three fewer weeks! This trend is critical because developing research skills was one of the central priorities emerging from Imagine Deerfield. Already we find the librarians more embedded in classes, working intentionally, longitudinally, and collaboratively with classroom teachers, particularly in the global water and food courses, which permits a deeper dive into research than was ever before possible. Further, teachers are holding classes not only in the rooms we built for them, but also at the long, open tables on the second floor. One of many examples of people making the space their own. And multiple Physics 1 classes are joining forces in the Innovation Lab and surrounding areas to build and test mouse-trap cars together, and the excitement is palpable. Students are clearly enjoying learning together, and as one student was heard saying to her friends “This place is SICK!” I think that was a compliment in today’s parlance.  In short, our library is already well on its way toward becoming the academic hub we dreamed it would be.

While I’m mostly here to say thank you, I’m also here to share some of the story behind its success. Our Library Research Committee, a team of knowledgeable, opinionated colleagues with broad perspectives quickly agreed on one principle: The library should have lots of people in it. (Choate missed that one!). With a clear picture of what success would look like, we had a lens through which to view every decision, and that made many tough ones relatively simple… Should we allow food? Of course: we wanted people to feel at home, and thanks to Charlotte and her forward-looking team, we piloted responsible food use even before the renovation. Should books be visible? Of course: As Mark Ott frequently reminded us, not only did we want the space to balance both old and new; but we also valued the ethos of a bookstore in which people might browse and leaf through books they hadn’t known were there. When it came to furniture, Keith offered wisdom from Williams: If you want to draw people to a library, outfit it with the most comfortable furniture on campus. Even the tricky question of whether to import offices was confidently answered: offices would bring people into the building, so we included them.

The team then turned to the question: “What should a 21st-Century library look like?” To answer that, we first visited seven college and prep school libraries to discover what features we liked. After each visit, we debriefed what we had seen and tried to predict which features would take root and endure at Deerfield, and which would prove to be fads and fade into disuse. Finally, we could not agree, and we had to admit that the future was too dark to see.

But out of that darkness came guiding light in the form of additional principles synthesized from our field trips:

  • We needed group spaces to promote collaboration;
  • These group spaces needed to be varied to accommodate many uses, some of which could not yet be imagined;
  • Group spaces needed to be flexible and readily customized for any use; and
  • We needed unique spaces to enable activities not possible elsewhere on campus: for example, the teleconferencing room in the heart of the second floor, which will better connect us to the world; and in the lower-level, an innovation suite comprising a large open area, Ideation Space, technology-rich Collaborative Classroom, and Innovation Lab. This suite encourages multiple sections—as many as thirty or more students and faculty—to work together, something we couldn’t do effectively anywhere else on campus.

In general, we saw the library as a place where disparate disciplines could meet: a home for interdisciplinary thinking. And here was yet another argument for incorporating the various offices—Academic Dean, College Advising, and the Center for Service and Global Citizenship. The Global Center, particularly, embodies not only interdisciplinary work, but work that lives in a realm between theoretical and practical, abstract and real. We wanted the library to be a place where people would go if they didn’t know where to go: to research, think, and reflect; and particularly in the innovation suite, to bounce ideas off others, make thinking visible, rapidly prototype, experience quick, inexpensive failure, and to rub minds and shoulders with bright people with different interests and perspectives to catalyze ideas and actions that could engage real-world problems.

Finally, we imagined a library that would develop, demonstrate, and celebrate the six qualities of an ideal Deerfield graduate: Disciplined Study Habits; Productive Collaboration; Resilience; Initiative; Creativity; and Curiosity. We hoped it would be a home for capstone research and writing, and based on what we’ve seen so far, it seems we’ve set ourselves up for success.

While much is still unknown, over the months and years ahead faculty and students will show us new ways the building can be used. We never imagined that the lower-level would—in conjunction with the basement of the Koch Center—become a de facto student center, nor that faculty would eschew classrooms for meeting their classes in open spaces. More surprises undoubtedly lie ahead. For now, though, thank you for giving us a space in which we can learn and grow.

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