McCabe Renovation Plans Revealed

By Terry Heinrichs and Kate Carter, Staff Writers

"McCabe Library was built in 1967 and typifies mid-20th century ideas of libraries as passive places for the housing and consumption of printed texts. We must re-envision the library…"
-Strategic Directions for Swarthmore College

The Libraries are now ready to move forward with renovation plans for McCabe Library. After 927 student surveys, 56 meetings with faculty, numerous fireside chats, and generally disregarded input from staff, the Libraries are committed to creating a new kind of library - one that even the most imaginative futurists had not anticipated.

Many spaces in the new McCabe will be "open floor plan," allowing room for today’s young scholars to roam freely, and engage in thoughtful, nondisciplinary-specific discussion. Most books, and their space-guzzling shelves, are being removed to provide for these new areas. Wikipedia in print is replacing the reference book collection, requiring a mere 80 shelves to hold 1,000 volumes. A scant few print volumes will continue to be acquired, and the cost savings will allow the Libraries to provide access to new resources and research opportunities to all students. Slated for purchase this fall is an exciting new database on the transatlantic migration patterns of octopi. "We want to create a library where students and faculty are able to rigorously pursue their passions," said College Librarian Peggy Seiden.

In a move to be a more sustainable building, the availability of electricity has been greatly reduced. To offset this environmental change, the library is providing spaces equipped with modern, human-powered typewriters, along with free carbon paper and whiteout. Students with I.D. can check out LED lanterns from the Reserves Desk. Because 4G access is no longer available, comfortable booths for making phone calls are being installed on each floor. For those who prefer the communication method referred to as "texting," fax machines will also be available.

Our Libraries will always offer rooms for quiet study and group study, but the renovations address student wellness and provide opportunities to decrease their levels of stress. This focus translated to a variety of exciting, and of course tranquil, new spaces.

In the new configuration of the building, the basement will feature a peaceful pool ("appropriately near the Peace Collection," according to the designers). Floaties, rafts, and beach balls can of course be checked out at the Reserves Desk. Along with the arcade, featuring pinball, PacMan and other games, a roller skating rink will be constructed on the second floor. Skates, helmets, and protective accessories are also available at the Reserves Desk. On the third floor, students will find nap rooms with Muzak of soft rock hits from the ‘70s playing in the background. Also slated is a space for yoga and meditation by the windows overlooking Parrish beach.

Not all ideas proved viable for McCabe. For example, because it may prove useful to biology students, the proposed petting zoo has been relocated to Cornell Science Library, with a new green roof for grazing.

The new McCabe can be seen as a distillation of our traditions and our aspirations, yet some traditions must change. The McCabe Mile will no longer be held in the basement. It will take place on the second floor roller skating rink, as it’s not safe to run around a pool.

The Libraries are certain that these changes will build community and foster more social exploration of great ideas and exciting innovations. "We see this new McCabe as a common space in support of the College’s objectives for the community," said Seiden. Architect Robert Thompson called the plan "visionary" and announced that "no other school has created such a unique library."