New medical library attains higher level Facility: The University of Maryland's six-level structure in downtown Baltimore will be the second-largest of its kind on the East Coast.

March 27, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

After seven years of planning and construction, the University of Maryland next week will unveil a $32 million medical library in downtown Baltimore that will be one of the largest in the nation, with technological features that will put it at the forefront of medical education.

The university has set April 3 as the grand opening for the six-level, 190,000-square-foot Health Sciences and Human Services Library, built as part of a $1 billion state effort to turn the downtown campus into a center for the life sciences.

Featuring 22 miles of bookshelves, one of the grandest staircases in Baltimore and a top-level reading room with panoramic views of Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor, the building is designed to accommodate the library's space needs well into the next century.

It will be the second-largest medical library on the East Coast.

It will officially open at 8 a.m. April 3 with the ceremonial delivery of the oldest book in the collection, a medical tome from the 1500s.

For University of Maryland President David J. Ramsay, the opening will signify the beginning of an era of growth and achievement for the 191-year-old institution.

"The library is always one of the first places you look to in order to measure the quality of any institution of higher education," Ramsay said. "Those who see our new library, from the outside and inside, will have no doubt as to the seriousness of our academic mission. This wonderful building puts us in a leadership position on an international scale."

The downtown campus, known as UniversityCenter, is a training ground for physicians, dentists, nurses and other health care professionals, with a daily population of more than 10,000.

According to state figures, the University of Maryland trains the majority of the state's doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, social workers and dentists.

Funded entirely by the state and open to the public, the library was designed by a joint venture of Design Collective of Baltimore and Perry Dean Rogers and Partners of Boston to be a "one-stop resource" for students, health and human service professionals and others.

It takes the place of a smaller campus structure that dates from the 1960s and will be converted to office and classroom space for the university.

Administrators say it is one of the most sophisticated library and information technology centers in the country, consolidating the university's health sciences library with a new central computer facility that will serve the entire campus.

The architects say the building is a "new cornerstone" for the campus, combining aspects of a traditional library with new technologies geared toward medical education and health care services.

Walls are clad in limestone, granite, brick and cast stone, and a curved roof conceals mechanical equipment.

The building's most distinctive feature is a large cylindrical "drum" that contains reading rooms, a lounge and other gathering spaces. At the top of the drum is a meeting room for university trustees and other dignitaries.

Running through the middle of the building is a 104-step staircase that is nearly a city block long. Along Lombard Street, a plaza is defined by limestone pillars inscribed with inspirational phrases from Euripides, Tennyson and other writers.

In addition to the central computer, the library has a 200-person conference center; microcomputer teaching laboratories; an information systems computer center; a media center; display space for rare and historical medical books; staff offices; and support services such as a cafe.

Other features include:

1,500 data connections throughout the building -- the most of any medical library in the nation.

40 "collaborative learning rooms" -- another record for a U.S. medical library.

360,000 volumes.

900 seats -- three times the number in the old library.

The Center for Innovations in Technology, a showplace for new products related to health care and medicine.

The Research and Information Commons, a central location for reference and circulation services, database and network information.

A "Distance Education Center" where students can be linked to courses around the world.

In square footage, the University of Maryland's library is more than five times larger than the comparable facility that serves the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the William H. Welch Medical Library at Monument and Wolfe streets.

Open since 1929, Hopkins' Welch Library has 33,000 square feet of space on three floors and a basement. With 382,393 volumes, it is open to students and faculty members at Hopkins and other colleges and universities.

Harvard University's medical library in Cambridge, Mass., with 210,000 square feet, is the only one on the East Coast that occupies more space than UM's new medical library.

Architect Edward Kohls, a principal of Design Collective, said the Maryland project forced the design team members to contemplate the future of the book as a primary research tool, in light of emerging technologies that are changing the way libraries function.

He said that the site, opposite the University of Maryland Medical Center's Homer Gudelsky Building and historic Davidge Hall, demanded a strong, "extroverted" design.

"This urban location is among the most significant spots on campus," Kohls said. "The site is narrow, and we wanted to retain its integrity while also creating a strong sense of place and scale."

Librarians began moving from one building to another March 20 and expect 85 percent of the move to be complete by opening day.

Library director Frieda Weise sees the new building as a symbol of the university's "dedication to the search for knowledge."

Whether alone or in groups, she said, "Those who want to learn now have state-of-the-art tools to do so."

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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