The View from T-Hall

Great Expectations

LAST FALL, THE UNIVERSITY hosted several major events surrounding the dedication and opening of the renovated and expanded Dimond Library. Throughout the academic year, there will be more occasions for celebration of the library. Indeed, we will likely remember 1998 as the Year of the Library at UNH.

I have a special fondness for this new library because it came to life over an 18-month period outside my office window. The construction was noisy and dirty, and it interfered with pedestrian traffic on campus. Yet over the months of construction, it was possible to see at each step that something very special was being created for the University. The building was under roof before winter arrived, but in order for the construction teams to work inside in the winter months, the building was wrapped in plastic. When spring came and the plastic fell away, there was a general thrill across the campus. This facility would be a totally transformed Dimond.

The library has met every expectation of its designers. It complements Thompson and Murkland halls, completes the courtyard between those buildings and is accented by the beauty of the ravine and the surrounding pine trees. Students and faculty have filled the library since the first day of classes last fall. The main library at a university serves a very practical purpose: it houses the resources that faculty and students need for learning. It is the quiet place for study on a busy campus. It is the place where people gather together to seek knowledge.

A university's library is also symbolic: it communicates how much the community values learning. It establishes an intellectual tone for the campus and says that study is serious business. Dimond Library sends a message that academic standards are high at UNH.

Most importantly, Dimond provides a welcoming environment for study. I predicted in my State of the University speech last September that the library would become "the place to be" on Friday nights. Time will tell if this is true, but there is every reason to think the new atmosphere will encourage students to spend more time studying.

We know more today about how people learn than we did even a decade ago, and Dimond has special features that will strengthen student learning. We now know that learning has a social dimension and is generally not an isolated activity. Students learn from each other and need to talk about what they are learning to acquire the vocabulary of new disciplines. They need to develop skills while working in teams so that they can bring these skills to the work place. In many departments at UNH, faculty members assign team projects, and students form study groups, project teams and learning communities. The new Dimond provides small study areas and seminar rooms for students to work together on group assignments, and we're seeing that these rooms are heavily used by students.

From studies in cognition we also know that knowledge is "constructed" rather than "received." Active and engaged students learn more successfully. The new library offers the tools of technology that today's students need, providing access to databases worldwide and a great variety of online research journals.

Dimond Library, along with the rest of campus, has joined the electronic age. Some faculty now require that students submit their assignments electronically. Last fall, UNH began to offer graduate-level engineering courses that were transmitted via computer links to employed non-traditional students at their work sites, as well as to students on the campus. The residence halls are now wired, and students can access library catalogs from their own rooms. Technology is making a difference in how we teach, whom we teach, even what we teach, and the new Dimond Library provides the electronic support for this change.

I hope you will be able to visit the new Dimond Library soon. It combines the best of the old and, we hope, the best of the new. We are grateful to the New Hampshire Legislature and to our donors for this magnificent facility. We believe it will enable the University of New Hampshire to better serve its students and to provide the research and public service that the next century requires.

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