Rejuvenating Ellis Library

Administrators hope library’s new commons will attract more students
Friday, August 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:31 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Jim Cogswell, director of MU Libraries, has a dream that breaks tradition: He wants the library to become a campus hot spot.

Libraries have long been regarded as places big on serious thought and sober behavior. This aura comes through particularly in some of Ellis’ older sections, dominated by worn, marked furniture, dusty windows and books, books, books.

Cogswell saw a need for something fresh and more inviting. The good news for him was that he wasn’t alone. The idea of more social and inviting library spaces has been on the minds of several colleges and universities for the past 12 years, he said.

Now, that idea has been realized at MU.

Since January, employees and benefactors have invested time and money into building the $2 million James B. Nutter Family Information Commons in Ellis Library.

“We wanted the library to make a transition from a space exclusively for storage of books to a space for people,” he said. “With the information commons, the library is becoming a social gathering place in which learning is but one dimension.”

The commons, now in use by MU students, includes four walled-off study tables, six conference rooms, six U-shaped work alcoves and 105 computer work stations.

As Cogswell walked around the commons, he excitedly pointed out smaller details, including benches between the alcoves and motion sensor lights in the conference rooms.

MU students seem to like it. Junior Gwen Evans said she visits the library often and will probably start doing most of her studying in the commons.

“I like that there’s easy access to the computers and tables you can sit at,” Evans said. “I think the atmosphere is peaceful.”

Brad Morgan, a recent MU graduate who plans to enter graduate school, appreciates the way the commons is designed.

“It kind of compartmentalizes things in this section,” Morgan said. “It also makes you a little less claustrophobic because the computers are a little more spaced apart.”

Prominent features of the commons are nine glass panels — eight of them carved with the names of eight Missouri writers: T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, Joseph Pulitzer, George Washington Carver, Samuel L. Clemens, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Tennessee Williams.

The central panel is reserved for the area’s official name: James B. Nutter Family Information Commons.

Nutter, a Kansas City mortgage broker, is the commons’ top benefactor. After the opening ceremony on Oct. 1, his contributions will total $1.25 million. The rest comes from the library’s capital campaign.

The hope behind the creation of the commons was that it would draw more people to Ellis Library and show them that a library can be a great gathering place.

“I expect it’ll be the favorite place to study for students,” Cogswell said. “However, we also hope to convince students that the library isn’t just a place to study; it’s a place to meet, work, learn and discover with other people.”

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