Albright’s new Learning Commons and Cultural Center reinvents the library for 21st century learning

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A new multipurpose library-archive and learning facility will form the heart of the Albright College campus.

Currently under construction, Albright’s Learning Commons and Cultural Center is to be a reimagining and expansion of the college’s Gingrich Library.

“It’s going to be completely different,” said Carey Manzolillo, director of communications for Albright.

The building will be remodeled inside and out, using universal design elements to ensure accessibility for campus and community members of all abilities, she said.

The first floor will house the library and an academic center, including areas for tutoring, academic coaching, accessibility services and career development. Study and meeting spaces have been designed with flexible configurations, integrated technology and digital scholarship tools.

A historical and cultural center on the second floor will house the history department and integrate important historical and cultural collections. Albright’s Archives and Special Collections plus three rare collections of artifacts and documents the J. Bennett Nolan Local History Collection, the Edwin and Alma N. Lakin Holocaust Resource Center, and exhibits from the Central Pennsylvania African American Museum will form its backbone.

The college archives document Albright’s life through records created by students, faculty, and staff while at the college. Special Collections include rare books, manuscripts, photographs, and other items requiring appropriate archival protection because of their rarity, value, or relevance to Albright.

J. Bennett Nolan, a lawyer from Reading, was the author of many books on local history subjects. He bequeathed his vast collection of resources to the college upon his death in 1964.

The Lakin Center was established in 1993 by the Jewish Federation of Reading and Albright College in honor of the Lakins. Alma (Natanblut) Lakin graduated from Albright in 1951. She died in 2012. Together with his partner, Albert Boscov, Edwin Lakin built the Boscov department store chain into one of the largest family-owned retailers in the United States. Lakin died in 2018.

Founded in 1998 by Frank Gilyard, the Central Pennsylvania African American Museum was formerly housed in the Bethel AME Church building, 119 N. 10th St. Gilyard, who died in January 2013 at the age of 82, dedicated his life to preserving black history in Berks County and beyond, amassing a collection of more than 500 historical artifacts and documents, which became the basis of the museum. The collection was donated to Albright in 2019.

LIBRARY 2022.02.24 – Albright presentation update_rev1_low res

The $16.5 million project to renovate the F. Wilbur Gingrich Library on the Albright College campus is expected to be completed in 2023. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

Planning for the learning and cultural center project began several years ago, Manzolillo said.

During a preparatory assessment of the library building in late 2019, engineers discovered cracks in the facade, indicating possible structural issues. As a precaution, the establishment was closed and the collections were sorted and removed from the building.

Manzolillo said the services had been moved to a virtual platform and continued to be offered virtually due to the pandemic.

With the end of pandemic restrictions, the project was accelerated, she saidnoting that the completion target is set for some time in 2023.

Fundraising for the project is underway, she said. So far, the college has raised approximately $10.4 million toward the project’s $16.5 million goal.

The amount includes a $1 million state grant provided through Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The program is administered by the Bureau of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historical improvement projects.

The award was announced in December 2020 by State Senator Judy Schwank, an attorney for the project.

The Gingrich Library has served students, faculty and community members since it was built in 1964, according to the college’s website.

Its collection includes more than 352,000 printed and electronic books, periodicals, records, audiovisual documents and a multitude of digital resources.

When the building opened its doors, the students formed a chain from the alumni hall, where the library was, to the new structure. Books were passed from pupil to pupil in the new library.

A fourth floor was added in 1977. Since then, the college’s undergraduate population has nearly doubled, services have changed with the rise of audiovisual and digital equipment, and study and learning have evolved, according to the site. college website.

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