“Let’s meet at the library.” This is a phrase that has been heard for centuries in the hallowed halls of colleges around the world. The library at Lone Star College Kingwood is the hub of the campus, but for nearly two years now, Lone Star College Kingwood students have not had access to their beloved library.
The building suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Harvey due to 42 inches of water billowing through the books and other reference materials. In all, 40,000 books were lost in the flood. At first, the remediation company actually laid the books out in the sun, hoping they would dry out enough to be salvaged, but in the end, the library contents were a total loss.
Kaleigh VonDerVor is Director of Academic Success at LSC-Kingwood. Shortly after Harvey, she was tasked with making sure that all faculty members were trained to teach online. Because students were not able to readily return to campus, the college quickly shifted to online classes to accommodate student need.
After the training was complete, VonDerVor was asked to help rebuild the library space, a task which seemed insurmountable at first. But VonDerVor knew the team, which she describes as an amazingly innovative team that had already done so much initial work on the library renovation.
“They had already visited different universities and colleges to look at their libraries and innovative technology. By the time I came on board, they had already generated so many great ideas, said VonDerVor, it was then a matter of prioritizing those ideas to maximize benefits for the students.”
Librarian Susan Goodwin recalls how Harvey surprised the whole community. No one at LSC ever expected the kind of damage the campus suffered. Goodwin said that the staff locked up the library as usual the day before Harvey hit. Goodwin’s neighborhood flooded, so immediate personal needs were the focus, but she explains that news about LSC began gradually trickling in. Then one day, she got a message that the damage was worse than everyone had imagined.
VonDerVor remembers the heartbreak of seeing the box pickup line, where LSC employees could come by to see if anything had been salvaged from their offices.
“People didn’t know whether they had something to pick up or not, and that was really devastating for people. Some faculty had been in their offices for years and had personal things like photos, teaching awards and gifts from students that were suddenly gone,” VonDerVor said.
Goodwin agrees. She had loaned the library her daughter’s personal collection of dolls from around the world—dolls Goodwin and her husband had collected over decades of travel to exotic locales. Sadly, the dolls were never found.
Shortly after Harvey, when the library staff was allowed to safely go into the gutted library space, rather than seeing devastation, they saw a blank slate and a promising future. Fast forward nearly two years later, and the LSC-Kingwood library is once again a vibrant hub of activity. The campus reopened in January 2019, and the library was expected to open in March. A few construction issues and the logistics of getting all the furniture and technology lined up caused a brief delay, but the library opened in late June to the delight of students and faculty alike.
One silver lining that Harvey has provided so many in the Lake Houston area is the chance to finally remodel to “make it what you want it to be”, and LSC is no exception. The library had been retrofitted again and again over the years, and there were some underutilized areas and some areas that were a force-fit. Now, the staff refers to the new facility as a Learning Commons rather than a library, since both library services and tutoring are co-located in a one-stop shop. Goodwin said that the staff is excited about the co-location, as it is a change they have been wanting to make for several years; because the two functions are so closely linked, the common location provides a time-saving, seamless experience for students. Math and English tutoring are offered free of charge.
The design is very intentional. All library and tutoring staff had input to the design, right down to choices in flooring and shelving options. Where possible, walls were eliminated. Power and data connections abound, and furniture is mobile. Administrative spaces are placed along the perimeter to maximize the common central area for students.
VonDerVor said the space is “future-proofed” to accommodate any conceivable need that is on the horizon. Goodwin and VanDerVoor agree that the new media escapes are their favorite addition; these are collaborative pod-like tables with soundproofing and a flat screen TV. Students clearly agree, as the “pods” are filled up most days since the grand opening. In total, there are 140 computers in the library, including two 40-person computer labs.
The library mainly contains digital resources. The 40,000 books were replaced with 6,000 print books which are expected to arrive on July 16. The staff painstakingly reviewed circulation records to ascertain which books had been most checked out, and made the decisions regarding books in-print from that data.
Another favorite, as Goodwin described it, are the laptop vending machines. Students can check out one of 30 laptops for four hours. Goodwin explained that the laptop service is a first-of-its-kind for LSC. Student Taylor Faust broke the cardinal rule of libraries when she first saw the vending machines.
“I loudly yelled out ‘Wow, these are amazing’, and then remembered I was in the library and needed to be quiet!,” Faust said. Faust was in awe when she first walked into the space, which she describes as “not your typical library with its fresh and inviting bright colors, open spaces and lots and lots of light.” Faust said she could study there for hours.
As the buzz about the library opening has spread around campus, Goodwin and VanDerVor stated that more and more students are visiting every day. Library staff are visiting with faculty to let them know about all the new resources, and the team is particularly excited for all the fall returning students and faculty to see the new space. Goodwin explains that the last two years have been difficult being unsettled; the library has been hosted in several locations, including LSC-Atascocita while main campus repairs were in progress.
“The hardest part has been feeling like we are not able to fully serve our students,” Goodwin explained. Now, the LSC library and tutoring staffs are in their new home and definitely open for business. The best part of all is that the LSC library is open to the public. The library is busiest in the mornings, so the librarians recommend an afternoon or evening visit. Bring your Harris County public library card with you to check out certain materials.