And, of course, bound books will still inhabit a central place in the new library. Despite the fact that UTC spends 80 percent of its library budget on online research materials, it buys 4,000 to 5,000 books each year, according to Liedtka. Students and faculty who served on the library input committee were adamant that they should have access to books in print. Students were happy accessing movies and journals digitally, but even the most digitally competent preferred print to screen when writing papers or studying for exams.
While the new library will offer plenty of bound books and shuttered, quiet spaces, much of it will feature wide-open spaces with laptops and PCs rather than classic library stacks.
“We’re going from 40 PCs on our first floor to 120,” Liedtka said. “On the second floor, we’re going from 10 group study rooms to 40. We’re building three practice presentation rooms where students can go into the room and record themselves whether they’re giving a speech or singing a song. And they’ll be able to send themselves the tape and assess their performance. We’re trying to create new learning spaces unlike anything we have now.”
The university has wanted to build a new library since the late 1980s. The current library, built in 1974, was designed for a student population of less than 5,000. Today, with enrollments at 10,000 and projected to grow to 15,000 within the next 10 years, the university clearly needs a structure that not only takes advantage of the digital revolution, but includes a climate-controlled area to house the its signature collection of over 7,500 rare books (including first editions of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and William Faulkner, as well as the first English dictionary compiled by Samuel Johnson in the mid 18th century). In addition to rare books, the collection—currently stored in “every closet imaginable,” according to Liedtka—includes extensive materials on local and Civil War history. Chattanooga’s History Center has already requested storage in the new library for some of its most valuable materials.
In the end, a university is only as good as its library. With Liedtka, a charismatic figure with athletic grace and boundless energy, at the helm, UTC’s library not only has the potential to expand the boundaries of teaching and learning at UTC, but elevate its standing statewide.