Building Community

At Williams, we pride ourselves on communal learning. We believe that interactions among students, faculty, and staff—in both formal and informal settings—are the best drivers of personal and intellectual growth. Yet what drives those interactions themselves? Part of the answer lies in the physical spaces in which Williams people live and work.

In the Science Quad, we get a sense of how a space can create community. Williams’ science departments inhabit an interconnected labyrinth that houses classrooms, labs, study areas, and faculty offices—not to mention the Schow science library. The space fosters constant interactions among and between science students and faculty. Students with shared interests frequent the same facilities, where they learn—and socialize—together. Meanwhile, they frequently pass by their professors, encouraging those interactions—large and small—that build relationships and community.

Jo-Ann Irace, head of access services at Sawyer, thinks back to the days of Stetson Library as she tells me how the new Sawyer will provide a similar experience for humanities students. At Stetson, she says, faculty offices were located directly in the library itself. As a result, “You really had a community there because students would be coming in to study, faculty would be coming out of their offices, and whammo! They’d see each other. And I think with the new library, you’re going to have the same thing.” The area where Sawyer currently stands will become a large outdoor green, a spacious central hub of activity. Faculty walking to their offices in Stetson, Hollander and Schapiro will meet with students entering and exiting the library or relaxing on the grass. And then, as Ms. Irace says—whammo!

The new library will encourage further synergy between students simply by providing a number of group study spaces, which the current Sawyer lacks. The hope is also that the open, comfortable spaces of the new Sawyer will draw a greater number of faculty members to the facility. Perhaps, one day, we will see students and professors chatting by the circulation desk or spending time in the brand new café on level one.

Finally, the new Sawyer will bring together a number of different departments under one roof, as the Chapin Library, College Archives, and OIT’s Center for Educational Technology will all share the space, along with the general library collections and staff. The result will be a much more interconnected, interpersonal learning experience for students. As reference librarian Christine Ménard puts it, “There’s the hope that the staff will start to think of all of us as working towards the same goal and cross-referencing each other. We’ll be able to say, ‘Wow, this is a great project you’re working on, have you thought about maybe adding a multi-media component to it—you know, let’s go downstairs and I’ll introduce you to someone in the Center for Media Initiatives who can help you with that.’”

The new Sawyer, then, will be more a communal learning center than a traditional library. It will house a consortium of different resources while providing the spaces in which experts, students, and faculty can access the materials—together.

Jeffrey Rovenpor ’13, Stetson-Sawyer Project Intern