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Project manager Dan Bock (L) and Simon Neame in the newly restored Chapman Learning Commons - photo by Martin Dee
Project manager Dan Bock (L) and Simon Neame in the newly restored Chapman Learning Commons - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 4 | Apr. 3, 2008

Library Heritage Heart Beats Strong in New Barber Learning Centre

By Glenn Drexhage

How do you take one of the oldest icons at UBC and transform it into a cutting-edge learning hub at the heart of the newest building on campus?

With a lot of skill, patience, energy and improvisation.

Those are some of the qualities that Dan Bock and a cadre of specialists employed while refurbishing the historic core of UBC’s Main Library, located at the heart of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. The standout feature of the Library core is the Chapman Learning Commons, a tech-savvy space that’s been painstakingly restored to match its previous incarnation as closely as possible.

“The refurbished core is a fantastic space,” says Bock, the senior project manager for UBC Properties Trust. “I don’t know of anyone who was involved with it -- and with the Chapman room in particular -- who doesn’t go “Wow’ when they see it. I’ve got to say it’s exceeded expectations in terms of how close it is to its original state.”

That’s quite an achievement, considering that the Main Library first opened its doors in 1925 (the Chapman Learning Commons, which opened in 2002, is the result of a $1-million gift from UBC alumni Dr. Lloyd and Mrs. Katherine Chapman). More than 75 years later, as construction began on the Learning Centre, the Library’s heritage core needed to be seismically upgraded.

Some surprises awaited the crew. Some trusses atop the 40-foot Chapman walls were rotten. Steel support replacements were grafted on the trusses, providing crucial strength and helping distribute the weight load.

Meanwhile, deficient concrete lying hidden in some of the Heritage Core’s beams had to be removed and replaced with newer, stronger concrete.

In the midst of all these changes, a team of master craftspeople -- whose talents include plasterwork, finished carpentry, stained glass revitalization and stone masonry -- worked to ensure that the “new” Heritage Core is as faithful to its original appearance as possible. Bock, for one, is happy with the outcome. “I think it’ll take a very good eye to recognize any differences,” he says.

Indeed, the big differences aren’t architectural, but academic, as patrons want to access and use information in vastly different ways than the users of 1925. The Chapman Learning Commons is wirelessly enabled, and features 40 computer workstations. There are also four multimedia workstations that students can book to work on digital projects such as video editing or website development.

“It’s an evolution from spaces where people come to find information.” says Simon Neame, coordinator of programs and services for the Learning Centre. “Now, they come to use information in order to create knowledge.” As he notes, students are now submitting classwork in all sorts of formats -- not just the obligatory essay.

Neame describes the 5,000-square-foot Chapman Learning Commons as a “hub of learning support” that offers services such as research and writing assistance, workshops and more. “It’s a one-stop shop for getting help and referral,” he says.
Academic peer assistants, hired by UBC Library and Student Development, staff the Learning Commons help desk to assist with inquiries and offer tours.

Collaboration has also inspired other projects. For the past three years, Student Development, the Office of Learning Technology, the Alma Mater Society and others have worked on the LEAP portal (http://leap.ubc.ca), which Neame describes as a virtual learning commons. “As we develop our online services, it makes sense to integrate those into LEAP,” he notes.

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Last reviewed 03-Apr-2008

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