Dozens of students, education leaders and elected officials celebrated the library’s opening last Thursday afternoon with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. They all lauded the library as a crowning achievement for the college and the community.
“This is a major step for LaGuardia,” said Judith Bergtraum, CUNY’s vice chancellor for facilities planning, construction and management. “It transforms the library into a true campus destination point, a place that can offer students an array of critical learning opportunities.
“For students who have a hard time finding a quiet place, or dedicated space at home, the library is here for them,” she added. “For students who are tackling important research projects, the library offers one-stop resource shopping. For students who want to get online, collaborate, practice skills and seek solutions, the library is here for them.”
According to the college, the library has expanded from 37,000 square feet to 58,000 square feet, a 56 percent increase in size. There’s more seating for students as well, from 420 to 732 seats, a 75 percent increase.
The facility, planned by architect Gruzen Samton and built by contractor Stalco Construction, now features 312 additional workstations, a media suite and lab, study and reading rooms, and collaboration rooms for students to work on group projects.
It has new furniture, increased lighting, better Internet connections and additional electrical outlets for students to charge their devices.
The second-floor space, which used to house classrooms and office space, will now have 50 offices for staff and support.
The project, which began in 2007, cost $15 million.
The completion of the second-floor expanded space finishes the first phase of the renovation project. According to LaGuardia, the second phase will involve renovating the library’s first floor to mirror upgrades made above.
The college is now in the process of selecting architectural firms and engineering consultants.
“We are all proud of this amazing facility and we look forward to the success it will inspire,” Bergtraum said.
Borough President Melinda Katz said the new library has made the college and the community an “unbelievable attraction.” She announced that in this next year’s budget, her office has put in $1.5 million to renovate Shanker Hall.
The library has more than 650,000 visitors each year, school officials said, making it the most heavily used space on the campus. More than 17,000 students receive instruction at the library, and the collection includes 100,000 print books and nearly 500,000 e-books.
Local residents can also enter the library as long as they have a valid ID and come during college hours.
“Frankly, if I had a facility like this when I went to school, I would’ve spent more time reading and studying,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris.
When Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer first saw the room, he told LaGuardia president Gail Mellow that it looked like the Yale Law Library.
“This is the launching pad for generations of immigrants, generations of hardworking working class families, and in many cases, the first child of a family to get to a higher institution,” he said. “Every single student at LaGuardia Community College is just as good, just as worthy and just as meaningful as any student at Harvard or Yale.”
Van Bramer said he loves libraries because they’re the “most democratic institutions” in a society. No one is denied entrance based on documentation, income, gender or race.
He said the mission of libraries aligns with that of LaGuardia Community College, which he called a “haven.”
“When we invest in libraries and build institutions like this, which are aspirational, we speak to who we are as a people, as a city and a nation,” Van Bramer said. “When you come into this building, and you see the value of the funding put into this, you understand the value that we as a city place in the students of this college.”
Jonathan Morales, a liberal arts student who is set to graduate in June, said he was “truly blown away” by the space.
“It feels like something out of a luxury magazine,” Morales said. “It’s probably not a space one would expect at a community college.”
Morales dropped out of high school at age 17 to support his single mother financially. He worked as a carpenter for a few years, but said he wasn’t satisfied.
When he turned 20, Morales decided to attend LaGuardia. Though adjusting to the school environment was “a little rough,” he still found opportunities to succeed. Morales is now deciding among a few four-year colleges to attend next, including Stanford University and Brown University.
During his time at LaGuardia, he said he “had to be creative” to find places to study. He sometimes stayed late after class or hunkered down in the atrium, which tends to get loud.
So Morales typically studied at home, either at his dining room table or on his bed. Now that the library is complete, he’s said it’s worth the investment.
“I found that positive environments definitely stimulate success,” he said. “While I wish I had more time here, I’m confident that LaGuardia students will appreciate it for years to come.”
Abdias Sanchez, a mechanical engineering student who will also graduate next month, said students usually studied at the library annex, which was just a temporary meeting room used during the library’s construction. Others went to the atrium or an empty classroom.
Sanchez said he prefers a library setting, so he sometimes even went to the CUNY Graduate Center, which was quieter.
“It was a little rough, so this space is greatly appreciated,” he said. “It’s just in time for finals.”
Sanchez said he’s happy students who come here will “have greater pride” in their library.
“They will actually want to come here,” he said. “It looks so high-end.”
After graduation, Sanchez will conduct neuroscience research at Barnard College. He’s headed to SUNY Stony Brook University afterward to complete his degree.
The new space isn’t just a boon to students, it’s beneficial to library staff as well. Scott White, the college’s chief librarian, and his staff answers approximately 535 reference questions each week.
White said the renovated library is not only inviting, but comfortable as well. He expects more than 1 million visitors per year.
“It makes my job easier,” White said. “It’s not a stretch to get students in the library, they want to be here.”