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Charles E. Shain Library at Connecticut College reopens early after $10 million renovation

New London — It's not often an almost $10 million renovation is completed five months ahead of time.

But after more than 15 years of planning and about nine months of construction, Connecticut College's Charles E. Shain Library officially reopened Monday afternoon after a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony.

With its modern chairs, large windows for natural lighting, group study rooms and high-end computers, Lee Hisle, vice president for information services and librarian of the college, said the library's $9.875 million design is meant to create "a starting point for community on the campus."

Senior Hailey Crust, who studies international relations and Hispanic studies, said the design seems to be working.

"Before, (the library) was very closed off, very dark and you just didn't necessarily want to be here," Crust said. "It's definitely a space I'll be coming to more now."

A flagship feature of the new Shain library, Hisle said, is its $300,000 Diane Y. Williams '59 Visualization Wall. The 24-panel interactive screen, located in the ground floor's technology commons area, can simultaneously display multiple types of content from multiple types of computers, including iPhones. Already, professors have booked the area and its moveable furniture for hands-on classroom use.

"We're the first liberal arts college in the country that we know of … that's using a visualization wall for instructional purposes as opposed to public relations purposes," Hisle said.

The renovation also brought the Blue Camel Café from the ground to the first floor, where it's larger than it used to be and provides students a 24-hour study spot they never used to have.

"One of the good things about having so long to plan (the new design) is we had generation after generation of students that came through the college … and they kept saying the same things," Hisle said. "We knew what they needed - we heard it over and over and over."

Still, students said it wasn't easy to go almost nine months without a library.

"I ended up working in my room a lot, which I didn't like as much because I'm not as productive in there," Crust said, though she commended the college for providing alternative study spots. "It was hard … to find a place where you could really focus."

Conn President Katherine Bergeron, among others, thanked the students for their patience.

"It's difficult to lose the major space on campus for doing work," Bergeron said. "I want to thank all of you not only for your personal resilience, but also for supporting each other during this project."

The library, Hisle noted, is open to the public, who can use stand-up reference stations to look up government documents for free and can purchase a community user card to access other materials and technology in the building.

l.boyle@theday.com

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