Knowledge Center opens: High tech meets high touch

8/11/2008 - By: John Trent

Every building on campus has a certain personality and with it, a top-of-mind claim to a certain role and value to the campus’ mission.

Some are obvious (The Joe Crowley Student Union) and some are not so obvious (Mackay Science … for years home to the Department of Geography, and not be mistaken for the Mack Social Science Building or the Mackay School of Mines Building, for that matter).

With the opening of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center this week, the key coupling in building purpose and value to the institution will revolve around the notion of “knowledge” – how this mammoth (five-story, 295,000-square-foot), technologically advanced building will put the University at the nation’s forefront in re-imagining how information, technology and knowledge can be used in a higher education setting.

When the Knowledge Center opens for business to the public on Aug. 11, the University, according to President Milton Glick, will become a place where technology and the written word will come together in one place.

“I think the critical word here is convergence,” Glick said. “What we are seeing is a convergence of the historic library, the printed page and technology. In a very real sense, the new Knowledge Center is the physical manifestation of this convergence.”

When the University’s previous library, Getchell Library, opened in 1962, in many ways the University was already playing catch up following years of inadequate book budgets, according to James Hulse’s history of the institution, “The University of Nevada: A Centennial History.”

From an initial state appropriation of $500 to buy books in 1885, the University had steadily increased its offerings to about 420,000 volumes by 1973. The figure, though promising, left “nearly every department (feeling) handicapped because crucial volumes, both old and new, were still not available locally,” Hulse writes.

Since then, the idea of a university library has changed dramatically.

Book and journal access are still critical components, and the new Knowledge Center promises to meet this need well. With the state-of-the-art Mathewson Automated Retrieval System (MARS) having the capability of delivering requested book titles with the touch of a button, in a matter of a few minutes, the Knowledge Center will open its doors this week with the capacity to hold more than 2 million volumes.

But this only scratches the surface of the Knowledge Center’s value to the campus, Glick said.

“It’s not just going to be how information comes available anymore,” he said. “The Knowledge Center changes how you use that information, particularly for our students. It clearly gives our students access to production facilities and display facilities that a modern university must have.”

Recently, during a tour of the facility led by Duncan Aldrich, a longtime library faculty member, the group lingered near the “@One” area. Perhaps nowhere in the building was the production/display/final knowledge product capability more clearly in evidence.

“There is so much excitement in this building,” Aldrich said, “but from my own perspective, knowing how closely we will be working with students here, it’s hard not to think that this will be one of the most exciting places of them all.”

In a decidedly student-friendly building, @One seemed to welcome all visitors, starting with a quirky, night-club-neon-colored sign announcing the “@One” area. From there, the emphasis at @One shifts seamlessly to multimedia production, dynamic media, data works and more.

It was obvious that “high tech/high touch” will be on clear display on a daily basis at @One.

“Any student at any time can drop in for any number of projects,” Aldrich said. “And if they need expert, trained assistance, we will be able to offer it to them.”

The Knowledge Center’s foundation is set in concrete, but in a more figurative sense, it seems to be set in a sense of limitless possibility – that if you are looking for some form of knowledge, information or learning, the odds are good you will find it on one of the building’s five floors.

“Even with technology, you need places where people interact with technology as a group,” Glick said. “The Knowledge Center provides a sense of place that creates dialogue among humans about technology in all of its forms. It’s a place where high technology meets high touch, which is exciting for anyone who will walk in its doors.”

Although only its infancy, Glick said he already views the Knowledge Center as a “50- or 100-year building.”

“One of the long-running conversations in higher education, at least for the last 20 years, has been about consolidating the library and information technology to take advantage of the convergence of these two … and at most places it has failed,” he said. “We’re fortunate that, in my experience, we may have the most seamless integration of library and information technology organizations in the country.

“The new Knowledge Center gives a physical manifestation of that. One might argue that we don’t need a big building to do that. But in fact, it’s the building, and its many wonderful possibilities for collaboration, that causes that synergism to occur.”


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