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Linderman: "A place where humanities can flourish"

Linderman's stained glass rotunda ceiling creates a lasting impression on all who see it.

When John Dern '98 first walked into Linderman Library during the fall of 1993, he temporarily forgot about the book he had come to find. The building's architectural beauty compelled him to slowly walk from room to room, marveling at the walls, ceilings, and windows.

After that day, Dern visited Linderman every chance he could, even if he didn't need to study or find a book.

"At the time I was working almost full-time for the Cheltenham School District, teaching at Temple University in Philadelphia, and attending school at Lehigh, yet I would go out of my way to spend extra time at Linderman," Dern recalls. "I had to get up each day at 5 a.m. for work, but even after class at 10:00 at night, I'd head to Linderman, pick up the Observer from London, and sit in the rotunda and read it under the stained glass ceiling. I used to lie my head back against the chair and stare up at the glass ceiling until I got dizzy."

If one can fall in love with a building, Dern did. He's not the only one. Countless students, faculty, alumni, and visitors feel just as enamored with the 125-year-old Linderman, one of the first academic libraries built in the United States and the third oldest building on the Lehigh campus. Linderman's majestic arch windows, gargoyles, circular stacks, oak-paneled walls, and stained glass dome continue to instill a sense of awe.

Constructed before the age of electricity, air conditioning, and computers, however, Linderman has become a juxtaposition of the distant past, not-so-distant past, and present. The unused gas lamps, dating to the late 1800s, still hang in the building's entrance. Nearby, 1960s-style fluorescent lights hang from the ornate Reading Room ceiling. In some of the rooms on the upper floors, air conditioning units sit inside large, Gothic arch windows. The exposed pipes along the ceiling in many parts of the library--used to run wires when electricity was installed--stand as a testament to a mature building attempting to conform to the expectations of a modern era.

Indeed, on the heels of its 125th birthday celebration, Linderman stands on the cusp of a rebirth. Lehigh is in the process of securing the funds needed to transform Linderman, restoring the grandeur of the past while seamlessly adding the technology needed to take the library into the 21st century. Plans for the renovation began three years ago, starting with information gathering sessions with faculty, staff, and students, progressing to a feasibility study, and now moving on to the design phase. Officials hope to break ground within the next two to three years for the projected $17 million renovation.

"Everyone on campus knows this needs to be done," says Susan A. Cady, director of administration, planning, and advancement for Library and Technology Services. "This is the time for Linderman."

The glory of its time

Busts lined the rotunda in Linderman's early days.

Built by Lehigh founder Asa Packer in 1878 as a memorial to his daughter Lucy Packer Linderman, Linderman Library was patterned after the circular reading room of the British Museum. Designed by architect Addison Hutton of Philadelphia, who also designed Packer Memorial Church, the original building included a basement, main floor, and two semi-circular balconies now known as the rotunda. Hutton crowned the rotunda with a spectacular hand-painted stained glass dome that consisted of a center panel joined to 48 other panels with thin gauge metal.

Linderman was one of the largest academic libraries of its time. Endowed with $500,000, Lehigh's first library quickly assembled one of the largest collections of books, amassing 60,000 volumes within 10 years and becoming known in Europe as the "American library with lots of money for books." The collection included undergraduate and research volumes, as well as rare books.

It soon became overcrowded with both books and people. To relieve the crowding, Lehigh hired Visscher & Burley (who designed Packard Lab and the Alumni Memorial Building) to design and build an addition in 1929. Funded by 25 generous alumni, the addition quadrupled the size of the library and included the oak-paneled reading room that could accommodate 296, along with a rare book room, art gallery, and office space.

Over the years, Linderman again outgrew its space, and the E.W. Fairchild-Martindale Library was built in 1968 to house the science, engineering, business, and social sciences collections, reserving Linderman for the humanities disciplines. Today Linderman is home to more than 300,000 volumes, including rare and special collections, journals, databases, and multimedia tools.

Changing times, changing needs

The ornate entry literally says university to generations of students.

Although the construction of Fairchild alleviated the overcrowding, it did not help the mature Linderman keep up with the technology revolution. Indeed, libraries--old and new--are increasingly called upon to incorporate more and more technology, both for teaching and for learning. Today's students need 24-hour access to learning resources, which requires digitizing records and providing the latest database technology. Gone are the old card catalogs, and in their place are computers. At Lehigh and libraries across the country, rare books are now being copied into electronic formats and placed on the Internet.

"Academic libraries must now house and provide access to a wide variety of easily accessible and carefully selected print and electronic scholarly information, such as monographs, journals, indexes, abstracts, government documents, multimedia, databases, and Web sites," Cady says.

In addition to keeping up with technology, libraries also must accommodate changes in teaching style and academics. Professors now emphasize group projects over individual assignments, calling on libraries to facilitate the group learning process. Students need libraries that facilitate team problem-solving and group thinking.

"At Lehigh, not only are your individual skills important, but also your ability to work with a group," says Ron Yoshida, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "We want students to be able to work with others to see different perspectives, to learn how to negotiate, and to work effectively as group members and group leaders. That's what they are going to be faced with out there in the work world."

Academic libraries increasingly must serve as a learning resource, where students and faculty can not only find the materials they need, but also can meet and discuss them.

"Libraries have and will continue to be the primary campus focus for research, study, scholarly discussion, and social interaction," says Bruce Taggart, vice provost for library and technology services. "As our curriculum changes, our libraries must be responsive to the new demands of interdisciplinary course work, collaborative research projects, and expanded use of technology for access to information resources."

To facilitate group learning, more and more libraries now offer a variety of study spaces, with traditional quiet areas for individual study as well as more social areas for group study and discussion. Although the 1929 Linderman addition included a few classrooms, those rooms have since been converted to other uses. In the restored Linderman, the university will create a dynamic learning laboratory that includes classrooms, seminar rooms, quiet study spaces, and social spaces.

"In the past, libraries were places where you walked in and were supposed to be quiet. And, yes, there will be places in Linderman where you are supposed to be quiet," Yoshida says. "But we want Linderman to be a very active place. We want spaces where students can get excited about learning and work with professors and work amongst themselves. We want Linderman to become an active place of learning."

"We promote the humanities"

From left, Sue Cady, Ron Yoshida, Jean Farrington, and Bruce Taggart.

Officials hope the new Linderman will help attract the best and brightest humanities students and talented humanities faculty while also promoting a sense of cooperation and ingenuity among the arts and sciences disciplines. From the very beginning, Asa Packer stressed that the humanities be included in the Lehigh curriculum, and over the years the humanities have been increasingly emphasized. The humanities disciplines now include doctoral programs in English and history, an interdisciplinary master's program in American Studies, and a Humanities Learning Community, among other disciplines.

Lehigh continues to strengthen both the humanities and the sciences by encouraging interdisciplinary learning experiences. For example, the new Global Citizenship initiative combines courses from religion studies, international relations, history, economics, and sociology. University officials hope to offer many more such initiatives in the future, helping to build the intellectual bridge between the science behind new technologies and the effect they have on humanity.

Yoshida hopes the new Linderman will encourage faculty to meet and brainstorm similar initiatives, strengthen partnerships among academic programs, encourage students to move between the sciences and humanities, and, ultimately, spur innovation.

"We're small enough that we have to go outside of our boundaries in order to create a critical mass that we don't have in a single department," Yoshida says. "We're trying to create an opportunity among the faculty to experiment and try new things, to take advantage of the breadth of business and engineering and other disciplines that we have on campus.

"Linderman will become another place in the center of campus where humanities can flourish. We're making a big effort to put right in the center of campus, in one of the earliest and most traditional buildings, the hallmark that says we are a liberal arts institution and that we promote the humanities."

"A different type of education"

With much-needed renovations planned, things are looking up for Linderman.

To accommodate those changing needs, the renovated Linderman will include much more than spaces for books, journals, and quiet study; it will also include social spaces, possibly within the rotunda, where students, faculty, and researchers will be free to interact and discuss research and collaborative projects. Although the final blueprint of the new Linderman has yet to be drawn, a restored rotunda might one day include fewer stacks and more open spaces with chairs and other furniture, creating a brightly lit, inviting area.

"Libraries are social spaces as well as study spaces--they provide opportunities for students to see and be seen, to meet and greet and to interact in an environment that is focused on the academic and the intellectual," says Jean Farrington, senior development officer and Linderman Library liaison. "Even though students can get much information online in their rooms, they still gravitate to libraries and take advantage of the stimulation that being in a library can provide."

Other parts of the building will include classrooms and seminar rooms, where professors can interact with students using library resources. It will include the latest in wireless and digital technology, allowing students and faculty to go online to research projects and download the information they need.

The new Linderman also will include climate control and better lighting. Electrical wiring and ducts will be hidden, uncovering and accentuating the natural beauty of the walls and ceilings. All of this will not only make the library more accessible and inviting, but also will help promote group learning.

"My belief is that by the year 2010, you will see a different type of education being offered at Lehigh," Yoshida predicts. "We will be drawing people from different disciplines to create different ways of looking at things through research, as well as different experiences for our students. Linderman will become one of the places where the humanities faculty, as well as others, can come together to experiment with content and with students. It will become a laboratory for the humanities."

Those planning the renovations hope the restored Linderman will house the latest in technology in an unobtrusive way, allowing the technology of the 21st century to seamlessly mesh with the unique ambiance of the 19th century building.

"We look forward to the challenge we face with the revitalization of Linderman, juxtaposing an historic 19th century Gothic library with new technologies, teaching classrooms, and collaborative learning spaces," Taggart says.

That means preserving and accentuating what most hold dear: the ceilings in the rotunda and Reading Room, the oak walls in the Reading Room, the stained glass medallions depicting academic disciplines such as philosophy and aviation in the Reading Room windows, the Gothic arch windows throughout the building. The list goes on.

"There are some things we do not want to undo," says Farrington. "We want to restore the library and retain the legacy of the library. We're trying to strike a balance between refurbishing the grandeur of the building and at the same time maximizing technologies."

--Alisa Bauman

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Fall 2003

Posted on Tuesday, February 08, 2005

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