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Development / Silverman library 2.0

More power, more light, and more amenities

Photos by kc kratt


Alumni of any vintage won’t recognize the University at Buffalo’s Oscar A. Silverman Library. Where are the stacks? Where are the books? What happened to the dingy lighting? 


The complete redesign of the library is phase one of Heart of the Campus, an initiative to enhance the student academic experience and part of the larger UB 2020 strategic plan. For years, critics have agreed that there is no front door to the sprawling campus. Heart of the Campus incorporates Capen Hall as a center that includes new student learning, library, and dining amenities. The 57,000-square-foot library area was closed for nearly two years to enable the construction; it reopened in late August.


Occupying the third floor of Capen, Silverman comprises almost an acre of space. “The space reimagines and reinvents the traditional role of the academic library,” says H. Austin Booth, vice provost for University Libraries, “and gives students, faculty, and staff many exciting opportunities to connect, share, learn, and create new knowledge for the future.”


Before undertaking the library renovation, planners observed trends at colleges across the country and visited comparable institutions to see what worked. They also surveyed students and delivered a project that included student recommendations.


The top request was for access to power and USB ports. “Power, power, power was the number one demand,” say library administration representatives. As a result, there are more than 1,200 outlets in the renovated space. Another call was for light; the space is now flooded with windows. Clerestory windows surround two large rectangular light courts. Students also stressed security, as the library is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. 


The last major request by students was food. A new cafe called Whispers is centrally located and serves popular products (including Starbucks coffee).


This new space truly feels like the heart of the campus. Once dark and depressing, it’s now bright and uplifting, buzzing with activity. For those who want quiet, the Grand Reading Room seats 220 in a quiet space designed for individual study. Its rich dark woods evoke a traditional library look and feel.


Other spaces are open and collaborative, with a variety of flexible options. Here, the wood finishes lighten, transitioning to bright natural maple, and appealing seating options allow students to study alone or together—900 seats, including sofas, settees, and benches.


There are also two fifty-seat high-tech classroom/event spaces and bright, attractive group study rooms that may be reserved in advance and are equipped with flat screen monitors to display student projects. Several soundproof recording studios use One Button Software, an image processing program developed at Penn State University, and are outfitted with microphones, projectors, blue screen capability, and adaptable lights. Outside the video room doors, there are editing stations, loaded with easy-to-use software.


Other appealing options include a bank of study booths: restaurant-like tables attached to the wall with upholstered benches that look like they were moved from someone’s favorite diner. Finally, there are 100 computer stations throughout the space. Often, students will use desktop computers, laptops or tablets, and cell phones simultaneously. It’s easy to see why outlets and USB ports were the top request.


The logistics of preparing Capen’s third floor for its overhaul were tricky. Forty percent of the space had been devoted to stacks that housed 200,000 volumes, and there wasn’t room in any of the other libraries to accept those books. The collection was carefully weeded and redirected, many volumes going to a remote storage facility (the University Library Annex), a high-density facility with thirty-foot stacks. These books are now available upon request (with a day’s notice). Most of the remaining volumes went to Lockwood Library, which houses the largest print collection on campus, and to the Architecture, Music, Health Sciences, Law, and other collections as appropriate. It was not considered a deaccessioning process, as books were not discarded. Circulation history determined actual usage and where each volume would best be sent. Stacks and the old study carrels had totally blocked windows; their removal means that natural light now floods the space. 


The Silverman Library transformation is phase one of the Heart of the Campus initiative. Future renovations are in the works for Capen’s first and second floor, including phase two, which creates a grand entry to the building with one-stop-experience student services space, and phase three, which makes better connections between the first and second floors, including a grand staircase.         


The UB 2020 Heart of the Campus project is a capital priority identified in the 2009 “Building UB: The Comprehensive Physical Plan” and 2013–2023 Facilities Master Plan

The project emerged out of an aspiration to create a vital and sustainable campus environment to improve the experience of students, faculty, and staff. The design for Capen’s third floor was a collaborative effort between Buffalo firm Architectural Resources (principal architect Peter Murad) and architectural consultant Perry Dean Rogers. The general contractor was Manning Squires Hennig.


Barry A. Muskat is a frequent contributor and Spree’s architecture critic. Having spent many hours in the stacks, he wonders what happened to the librarians who kept whispering “Shhh!”  

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