A Tour Through the New Brody Learning Commons

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Hi again everyone.  With the start of the school year and all the new faces on campus (a topic recently covered by our own Admissions_Laurin in her new blog post, “Movin’ On In”), I wanted to take this time to introduce one of those new faces to you all.  To be fair, it isn’t really a new face so much as it is a new façade.  But, like any new building on campus, it’ll quickly become another essential aspect of the undergraduate experience here at Hopkins.

I’m writing today about the newest building on campus, the Brody Learning Commons.  Named in honor of the university’s 13th president, William R. Brody, and his wife, Wendy, the Brody Learning Commons connects on all floors to the Milton S. Eisenhower Library (also named after a university president and brother of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for all you history buffs out there).  However, the goal of this space is to encourage collaboration as well as a more social studying atmosphere.  The building boasts 16 group study rooms, 6 seminar rooms, a three-story atrium, and lots of natural light.  The admissions staff was lucky enough to get a tour of the new facilities, and hopefully by the end of this blog, you’ll feel like you came along for the ride.

The Admissions Office leaves its mark...on the dry erase walls.

Entering the Brody Learning Commons, BLC, or BroCo depending on who you are talking to (yes, students have already assigned a nickname to the place…and the student opening was on the 6th), I was struck by how open the building felt.  Looking at it from the outside, I saw that the façade was almost all long glass window panes.  Stepping inside, however, I began to realize how big of an effect that has.  Everything has nice, natural sunlight to shine on and highlight it.  The building ends up looking brighter and has a nice outdoor feel to it.  It’s certainly a far cry from the cramped libraries of the past and the quintessential dusty shelves of yore.

Coming in from the quad, I entered the newest café on campus, the Daily Grind.  This 75-seat café is part of a family of Daily Grind cafes around the Baltimore area (a shout out to all the hometown folks) and has a nice collection of snacks, sandwiches, and drinks for everyone’s different preferences.  Going past this to the atrium proper, the space opened up and covers 3 floors of the MSE Library.  This atrium is lined with glass windows and clear views of the study rooms of the BLC and the stacks of the MSE Library.    The openness and glass windows make people feel like they aren’t stuck inside in a cramped space, but rather, they are studying amongst all their friends.  The space really does a great job of integrating both libraries and showing off the best of each.

An Archaeology of Knowledge in the new study room.

Farther in on this floor, the tour stopped by the new quiet reading room, another fantastic space with high-lofted ceilings and plenty of lighting from the outside.  This 100-seat room gave the BLC a great, traditional collegiate feel to it with its wood paneling and studious atmosphere.  Of particular note, the artist Mark Dion created an installation at one end of the room called “An Archaeology of Knowledge”, which can best be described as a cabinet of curios, artifacts, and other fascinating objects found all throughout Hopkins.  The point of the cabinets and all of its contents is to inspire “productive day dreaming” in everyone who sees it (not an exaggeration, in my opinion).

The library hosts an array of new amenities from standard library ones to the far in the future technological innovations.  The BLC has the standard printing room with scanners and copiers.  However, if you bring your own laptop and decided you need to store it for a little while, you can rent out number locked lockers complete with outlets inside for all of your charging needs.  Many of the walls in the study rooms and throughout the buildings have a special paint on them that allow students to write on them with dry erase markers (no need to worry about running out of writing space anymore).  The building itself is LEED Silver certified, a rating given to various buildings based on their performance as a “green” building, and contains energy efficient windows and vents.  The Brody Learning Commons also contains a space to study and to have consultations on rare books and materials, The Winston Tabb Center for Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Archives Research.

The library lockers of the future.

Coming into the bottom of the atrium on B-level, I really got a sense of the size of the building and what it was trying to accomplish.  Furniture of all shapes and sizes were spread out through this space, all of which were movable and allowed students to arrange their study set-up any way that they chose.  The furniture itself was voted on by students back in 2010 based on which ones they wanted to see in the new library.  The new seats (a term used to describe everything from seat/back combos with no legs to soft, rolling cushion balls) really allow students to use anything they find comfortable while they are here.

Admissions_Ardi and Admissions_Shannon trying out the new study furniture.

More than just a study space, however, the Brody Learning Commons also houses active research projects.  In the atrium, the Department of Computer Science has placed a visualization wall made up of multiple video screens, Xbox Kinect Cameras, and an array of computers in the background.  The goal of this study is to analyze how people interact with computers and to determine what “natural” gestures are in the interactive sense (think Tom Cruise in Minority Report).  One floor down is The Department of Conservation and Preservation, home to the Heritage Science Project, which promotes original scientific research on conservation issues.  To find out more about these two projects, and about the Brody Learning Commons, you can also check out the article from the JHU Gazette: “An uncommon library” .

For the visualization wall, again, think of Tom Cruise from The Minority Report.

In the end, the Brody Learning Commons acts as a great compliment to what we already have on campus.  For those who need a more traditional space with a quiet atmosphere, we have the MSE Library, Gilman, and many of the other libraries and study rooms on campus.  For me as an undergraduate, I was always right on the top floor of the library right at the entrance.  I needed people passing by and chatting with me every once in a while to keep me motivated and working.  For me, the Brody Learning Commons provides the social study space that I always looked for.  So, whenever you get to campus, you can try out all the different spaces on campus and see what works for you.  When you settle there, you should make that space your own, but also know that you are just a few steps away from everywhere (and everyone) else as well.

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