Library Not Just Expanded, But Reimagined

At today’s university, libraries are asked to be many things. Research center, study space, and gathering place? Of course. Collaboration hub, reading room, and laptop lair? Definitely. 24/7 refuge for last-minute doers and late-night dreamers? Why not?

Thanks to an impressive five-story addition that opened this semester, Fenwick Library on the Fairfax Campus now fills all these roles, and more.

You can add one other thing to the list, noted George Mason University president Ángel Cabrera at the March 31 dedication ceremony for the new Fenwick. Referencing the very comfortable-looking study nooks in the lounge, Cabrera jokingly predicted the library would soon become “my new favorite afternoon nap spot.”

Built at a cost of some $60 million in state funds, the expanded facility opened at the start of January after six years of planning and two years of construction. The light-filled addition is a tremendous complement to the learning resources available to students here at the system’s main library. It includes seating space for more than two thousand people spread across five brightly-colored floors, numerous individual and team study rooms, an exhibition area, an art gallery, a research commons, and a Special Collections Research Center. Students can even use a self-service kiosk to check out a laptop, if they haven’t brought their own. An all-night café and 24-hour study area will open later this spring.

Books, of course, are present as well—nearly one million of them. Smartly-designed “compact shelving” helps to house these, along with a significant part of the library system’s 25 horizontal miles of physical collections.

While state funding covered the cost of construction, private philanthropy through the Faster Farther campaign supports much of what goes on inside the building. The latest example came just a few weeks before the addition opened when L. Claire Kincannon, a long-time friend of the University Libraries, made a generous gift to create an endowment to fund a graduate student internship. Mrs. Kincannon’s gift will allow graduate students to pursue interests and career goals related to special collections archives—particularly in the area of the performing arts.

Some 200 people attended the dedication ceremony, including loyal library supporters and other invited guests as well as a host of student onlookers. President Cabrera was joined at the event by Dean of the Libraries and University Librarian John Zenelis, who has led Mason’s library system since 1998, as well as Board of Visitors rector Tom Davis and Provost S. David Wu.

Brian Lamb, the founder of C-SPAN and a longtime friend of the Mason libraries, was also on hand and gave brief but evocative keynote remarks. Lamb told the story of his friend Dean Zenelis, who was “literally born in a straw hut” near the town of Delphi in Greece, came to the United States at the age of 15, learned to speak English, received an outstanding education, and went on to a career as a respected educator. “John’s life is one of those great, only-in-America stories,” Lamb concluded to applause.

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April 11, 2016 / RR