When students return to North Carolina State University in January, they will have a belated holiday gift. At their disposal will be a brand new $115 million library boasting the latest in technological advances, including study desks equipped with new computers, a robot that retrieves books, video walls and 3-D computing.
The library, which took three years to complete, is named for former Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. and is hailed as the centerpiece of NCSU’s Centennial Campus.
On Wednesday, during a brief stop at the library, Hunt recalled buying heifers at the Dorothea Dix dairy farm that was housed on what is now Centennial Campus — a sprawling community of corporate, government and nonprofit offices that exist alongside classroom buildings at NCSU.
The city of Raleigh wanted to buy the dairy farm land and build houses.
"I had a better idea,” Hunt said.
Hunt, who was governor at the time, secured the property for N.C. State, and Centennial Campus became a reality. Twenty-five years later, construction began on the library — a green building whose predominant features include a 300-foot-long glass wall that rises 50 feet and sprawling views of Lake Raleigh.
LIBRARY FOR THE STUDENTS
The library project is close to Hunt’s heart. His mother, Elsie, was librarian at Rock Ridge School.
"I just love libraries,” he said in a phone interview Thursday from his Wilson County home. "I fell in love with books when the Bookmobile used to come out and come to our home from the library in Wilson when I was young.
"I remember borrowing books. I was always reading books.”
Hunt said he credits much of his success in life to reading and learning and being excited about the things he read.
He wants a new generation of students to use the new library as well, just as he used D.H. Hill Library when he was a student at N.C. State.
"I am thrilled with the design and how functional it is for the students,” he said. "I believe they will find it not to be a stuffy old place where you have to go, but an interesting and exciting and comfortable place where they will learn in all kinds of ways that students learn today and find it easy to work together in doing discussions and solving problems and conceiving new ideas together.
"It’s not just a place you go check out a book and read it,” Hunt said.
Indeed, the library was designed to encourage students to work together on projects, said David Hiscoe, director of communications strategy for NCSU Libraries. Toward that end, there are almost 100 group study rooms, most outfitted with white board walls and wall-mounted display screens in addition to tables and chairs.
There are many non-traditional features in the library including a skyline reading room and terrace on the fifth floor; a teaching and visualization lab where students can create 3-D immersive virtual reality experiences; and a state-of-the-art game space that can be used by students in the gaming development curriculum or those who just want to take a break and play a game on the large wall screens.
To free up space for student use in the 220,000-square-foot library, designers chose to store books in an automated storage and retrieval system called bookBot rather than placing them on shelves. bookBot holds nine times the books as traditional shelving.
More than 1.3 million books on engineering, biotechnology and textiles have already been transferred from other libraries at State and storage sites elsewhere to large barcoded bins stored in rows at the library.
"This is the future of books in libraries,” Hiscoe said, adding around one dozen research libraries nationwide are using the system now.
A student will be able to request a book from Hunt Library using a computer, tablet or smartphone. Within five minutes, the book will be located by a robotic system and delivered to a library worker who will place it on a shelf for retrieval, Hiscoe said.
There will also be some traditional book shelving. Hiscoe said current periodicals will be available for browsing as well as some 30,000 books published since 2007 as well as books by NCSU professors.
The shelves for those books were built by Stephenson Millwork in Wilson. Stephenson did all of the millwork in the library, said Mike Thatcher, general manager, including the cafe area counters, the gaming room wall tiles and the outdoor benches.
"It was a great project,” Thatcher said
Thatcher said he is excited that Stephenson had a role in a building named for Hunt, who has meant so much to the state and the local economy.
"It was nice for us to participate in this and be involved in something that is a tribute to him,” he said.
The lead designer for the library was Snohetta, an international firm based in Norway and New York City. The firm also designed the Library of Alexandria in Egypt and the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion at the World Trade Center site.
The local architects are Pearce, Brinkley, Cease + Lee.
INSTITUTE FOR EMERGING ISSUES’ NEW HOME
Jim Hunt, who’s retiring from the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice at the end of the year, has an upstairs office at the new library. In his retirement, the four-term governor will continue his work across the state, including his involvement with the Institute for Emerging Issues.
The library now houses IEI, which earlier this month hosted the Redesigning Democracy Summit, drawing national leaders from across the country to discuss improving citizen engagement.
The institute is a think and do tank focusing on the state’s future that was founded by Hunt, and its offices have already been moved to the new library.
But downstairs, near the main library entrance is the Institute for Emerging Issues Commons where students and others across the state can go and learn more about the state’s counties.
A large video screen continually plays a recording of Hunt who tells how he grew up in rural Wilson County and how he hopes to bring citizens together to focus on education, the economy, environment and health issues through the institute.
"We want you to help us become the best state in America,” he says in the short video.
After viewing the video, visitors can go to different stations to learn about a variety of issues and compare county data on as teenage pregnancy rates and education, for instance. They can also give their input and offer suggestions to problems.
The desire is to "push not just to concern about issues but to action,” said Dana Magliola, spokesperson for IEI, adding he hopes the public will visit the library and the IEI Commons to connect with the information available at their fingertips.
That’s Hunt’s hope as well.
He hopes students and other North Carolinians will visit the interactive stations at the commons and see how far we’ve come in the state and work together to find solutions to problems.
Hunt has enjoyed staying connected to N.C. State through the IEI and seeing the two work alongside each other.
"Together we can figure out and commit ourselves to progress, the way we need to build North Carolina and make it a better state,” he said.