METRO Member Spotlight: The Charles Evans Innis Memorial Library at Medgar Evers College

by David Orenstein, Chief Librarian, Charles Evans Inniss Memorial Library, Medgar Evers College

Last September, The Charles Evans Inniss Memorial Library at Medgar Evers College re-opened for business after being closed for a two-and-a-half year, $22 million overhaul. Located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the CUNY library serves a 7,000-member campus community, many of whom are first in their families to attend college.

medgarevers.jpgThe renovation added 800 square feet to the library, bringing the total interior to about thirty thousand square feet among three floors. The renovation added open space for individual and collaborative learning, five new study rooms, and three training labs for information literacy and critical thinking instruction. There are also group study spaces and information services spaces for students and faculty. The college archives, rare books, and special collections have new, inviting space for the library’s growing collections in the African American experience and the Civil Rights Movement. Soon, both the MEC Learning and Writing Centers will be relocated to the new facility.

While the construction of the library building was underway, the college’s Carroll Street building provided a temporary home for our library's faculty and staff. The 100,000 volume collection was stored at the CUNY School of Law Library in Queens. Over the previous two summers, we librarians conducted an exhaustive inventory of the print collections. This included a major weeding, fixes to cataloging records, and harmonizing the collections with data found on OCLC. Not only did we see this as an opportunity to discard individual monographs and whole collections that were out of date and no longer relevant to the curriculum, but we also fixed a great deal of bibliographic holdings for better access to the entire library community.

The current library was designed by ICON5 architects. My staff and I provided direction for reconfiguring the library both as a research and community space for the entire community. The library’s physical design was based on the kinds of library services that draw on rapid innovation, such as media labs and online tutorials for faculty. The redesigned library space is designed to bring people in, foster teamwork, and take advantage of the kind of unstructured transactions on which the online world already relies.

Faculty service is a major emphasis of the redesigned library. Two new faculty spaces have been added, including a room for faculty research, with a dedicated librarian assisting faculty. The Emerging Tech Lab provides faculty with media and technology resources to develop pedagogy related to the web, and a librarian works onsite for consultation and planning.

The reimagined library is also a community space for exhibitions and performance. The first art exhibition focused on the African American Diaspora and was on loan from October to January 2015. Last September, in partnership with the College’s English Department, the library hosted a poetry slam for the National Poetic Day of Justice on its ground floor. Student poets and performers shared their work, as well as the work of others who spoke out on issues of social justice and police brutality. 

We’re focused on our students and we’re equally focused on the faculty. Our librarians are part of academic life and a part of the research mission of the faculty. It is through the use of this new physical space and our online presence that we maintain our relevance. We should remember that, while the building is modern, the library itself shares the same DNA as the Library of Alexandria. We are here to make information more accessible and we celebrate all libraries as engines for economic growth, lighthouses for education and intellectual discovery, and partners for democracy.


The image above was provided to us by Dr. Orenstein. It first appeared in the article "Great Turnout for the Charles Evans Inniss Memorial Library Ribbon Cutting Ceremony" on CUNY Newswire on December 3, 2014.