New look for library

Library of the Health Sciences

“The end goal was to meet the needs of the entire spectrum of students,” says Jay Jurek, user experience librarian. ­(Photo: Vibhu S. Rangavasan)

Students who step into UIC’s newly renovated Library of the Health Sciences will quickly realize that it isn’t your typical library.

To start, students can get a strong cup of coffee or tea and healthy snacks in the library’s café, then consume them in the library as they study. They will not be shushed when they speak too loudly and will be encouraged to work in group settings in visualization or collaborative study rooms.

And yes, if it’s quiet they are seeking, students will be able to find it in silent study spaces while they absorb the natural light from large windows previously blocked by administrative offices.

“The end goal was to meet the needs of the entire spectrum of students, of burgeoning health professionals and established health professionals,” said Jay Jurek, user experience librarian. “We’ve tried to create a space for each of the activities that our studies have shown us that people need.”

Jurek helped shepherd the $5.2 million, two-year renovation project of the library at 1750 West Polk Street, which culminated with a grand opening in time for UIC’s fall semester. The renovation of the 23,000-square-foot first floor is the only building renovation since it opened in 1974, Jurek said. The project also included updating fire alarm and mechanical systems.

The overall design was meant to encourage activity and collaboration. Soft furniture and acoustically absorbent surfaces are distributed throughout to keep sound to a minimum. Semi-private study areas with tables encourage group work and acoustically sealed quiet reading rooms are available. Electrical outlets are within reach of every seat and a large screen greets visitors with information or images from the library’s collection.

Since the building was constructed, the library has increasingly served as a center for “knowledge production,” where teams from the surrounding health care facilities gather to study or work on projects.

In addition to clinicians from the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, health care professionals from the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, Stroger Hospital and Rush University Medical Center use the facility, Jurek said.

Senior Anna Gonzalez, who is studying management information systems, was among students who helped library officials develop plans for the space based on the needs of the students. Gonzalez helped conduct surveys to determine what was needed by library users.

“They wanted more study areas, longer hours and a café,” Gonzalez said. “Medical school students’ schedules are so crazy that they need those longer hours and they have needs that undergraduates don’t have.”

Jurek then took that information to university officials and architects.

Officials plan to expand library hours this spring.

And for Michelle Chavdar, graduate student in public health, that is welcome news. “I utilize the library to meet with my classmates, study independently and plan or organize for the upcoming weeks,” Chavdar said.

First-year medical school student Kimberly Hu said she appreciates that a focus of the library is to foster interdisciplinary connections.

“UIC has created a place where ideas and conversations can form organically while waiting for coffee, a place where students at neighboring tables from different colleges can overhear each other studying the same information and decide to work together and teach each other,” said Hu, a graduate of UIC’s Honors College and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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