Academics and Research

Interview: Penrose Library Dean Nancy Allen

"We simply cannot wait to see how students respond to the building," says Penrose Library Dean Nancy Allen. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The new Academic Commons at Penrose Library will debut in early 2013. Nancy Allen, dean and director of the library since 1992, looks ahead to the big day.


Q: Why is the new library called an academic commons?

A: The name was chosen because the building will be home to an array of high-traffic student- and faculty-support services anchored by the library. These support services are not only located in the library, but are deeply collaborative in meaningful ways. Just two examples: The library’s Research Center and the Writing Program’s Writing Center both help students move through the continuum from inquiry to expression involved in writing one of the more than 6,000 papers produced each year by DU students. And the library works closely with the Office of Teaching and Learning to help faculty provide digital content in their courses in ways that enhance learning.


Q: What has you most excited about the new Academic Commons?

A: We simply cannot wait to see how students respond to the building. New library buildings at other institutions have more than doubled the number of students using the space. We expect increased visits by students coming for help with academic projects, to meet and work with classmates on assignments, to find that perfect quiet location for individual reflection, or to go to an academic event. Everything students and faculty will do in the new building will support learning outcomes.


Q: Will lovers of the traditional library—of book stacks and quiet spaces—feel at home in the new building?

A: Absolutely! We will provide two new “deep quiet” study rooms and more quiet study seats throughout the space. Handcrafted study carrels and sophisticated color palettes will help students find the focus and concentration they need. We will have a large book collection available for browsing—nearly 40,000 linear feet of the most-used books will be housed on the lower level. That’s almost 7.5 miles of books to support browsing, with another 70,000 linear feet of other types of publications, including journals, government documents and archives, available for speedy delivery upon request.


Q: In re-envisioning the library, what was the biggest challenge confronting you and your staff?

A: We need to support current scholarly and research practices while building a dynamic and flexible infrastructure for the future through good technology choices, appropriate furniture and a combination of group and individual study rooms. The contemporary library supports use of both digital and tangible resources, and that balancing of past, present and future is quite a challenge.


Q: Many of us are fond of Penrose’s modern furnishings. Will the new building incorporate any of our old favorites?

A: The midcentury modern design will be visible in the new furniture plan, which is based on re-use of over 4,000 furniture and office items. In addition, we plan to purchase and build many new pieces to create a beautiful and comfortable environment.

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