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Making an Entrance: Portland Community College Cascade Library Gets a New Look

Written by Kate Rubick, Lewis & Clark College
Photos by Kate Rubick, Lewis & Clark College


A former Portland Community College (PCC) student returned to the Cascade campus recently and was overheard on the plaza outside the library entrance recollecting, “I just know this is where the cafeteria used to be.” Indeed it was, and although the improvements to the Cascade Library are self-evident, having a point of reference for how the building was organized prior to the remodel is extremely helpful in appreciating it.

(Click each thumbnail in the gallery below for the full photo and caption information.)

Many years ago I worked as a substitute librarian at the PCC Cascade Library, so I was familiar with both its charms and its quirks–the most noticeable of which was that the old library did not have a proper entrance. The curved bank of windows that flank the rear of the library, on North Portland’s Killingsworth Avenue, have always given it visual prominence–at least from that vantage point. But the entrance to the building, which was known as the Student Center, was around the side; nondescript doors leading to a dark corridor from which one could access the cafeteria, several offices, and also the library. Torie Scott, Faculty Librarian and Department Co-Chair, showed me around the new digs and recalled the former corridor with wryness, “I used to think of it as the birth canal.”

The approach to the library now is open and welcoming and faces the central campus mall. Scott said that one of the campus architectural goals is to create line-of-sight along the mall from the west to the east of campus. From the library’s plaza, situated above the mall, the view of campus is noteworthy. Another benefit is that the entrance is now clearly marked “Library,” making it one of the few buildings on campus with exterior signage that signifies the function of the space.

Visitors enter from the plaza into a new vestibule, with low, upholstered seating and walls of windows. The vestibule provides an elegant transitional space between the plaza and the interior library. Two-story glass walls separate it from the library space, so it provides an ideal setting for conversation, although Scott said she more often sees people using it for study. Cascade library users value quiet space, and noise-prevention was a major theme of the remodel. “It was all about the sound,” says Scott. The space was designed in the 1970s as two stories with a floating mezzanine, which creates–as any library space connoisseur knows–noise problems. Solutions included:

  • Relocating Research Help Desk to be in area with closed ceilings (and close to the entrance for better visibility).
  • Rearranging furniture and shelving in a section of the atrium to create a quiet study area.
  • Moving Check Out Desk back a couple of feet to shelter it underneath a balcony overhang, instead of allowing it to protrude out into atrium.
  • Adding baffling material to atrium walls.

These changes helped mitigate noise while still emphasizing the beauty of the vertical space and natural light in the library. Scott reports that noise complaints have gone down in the year they have occupied the improved space. In addition, library users now have access to a silent study room. The remodel was completed in summer 2016 by Hacker Architects, Hoffman Construction and Czopek Design Studio, and it was part of a larger PCC building project funded by a property tax bond measure approved by voters in 2008. Other improvements included new restrooms on both floors (including a gender-neutral option), a new library classroom on the second floor, and the addition of a computing ledge on the mezzanine balcony. Modern new furnishings–soft seating as well as popular standing desks–complement existing wood chairs, carrels and tables. The collection was downsized somewhat to make room for additional study space and to accommodate shorter shelving in the atrium spaces. On the second floor, where most of the collection resides, comfy chairs greet readers at the ends of the rows overlooking the vestibule.

(Click each thumbnail in the gallery below for the full photo and caption information.)

The renovation required staff to relocate for a year. A bare-bones service point was set up in a building across the mall; the eight-person staff had to basically share one room. The forced proximity helped break down barriers between units. It was cramped but cozy, remembers Scott, “we all got to know each other really well,” and the rapport has carried over and impacts “the way we work with one another in the new space.” Though they opted to keep the Check Out and Research Help desks separate, faculty librarians and access services staff have a newfound appreciation for how their colleagues work, which ultimately has a positive impact on service. A beautiful new space with a graceful entrance and increased harmony amongst the staff? Improved acoustics notwithstanding, I’d call that a loud-and-clear win.


Kate Rubick, ACRL-OR Member at Large (2015-2017)
Instruction Services Librarian, Lewis & Clark College
rubick@lclark.edu

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Location! Location! Location! The Albert Solheim Library is Forefront at PNCA’s New Campus

Written by Kate Rubick, Lewis & Clark College
Photos by Dan Kelley, Lewis & Clark College


Approaching the Pacific Northwest College of Art, a renovated 1909 building in the North Park Blocks of Portland, I was impressed by its beauty — the ground floor is wrapped in high windows with curved tops, that were painstakingly recovered and restored. And through the windows, passersby can see bookshelves and lamps, people engaged in reading and study; the view inside is unmistakably the library.    

(Click each thumbnail in the gallery below for the full photo and caption information.)

PNCA has occupied the new campus since February 2015, but the library was not actually completed until summer 2015, so for the library staff, this has been the first academic year in their new space. When they first moved in, a large portion of the library was inaccessible unless you were wearing a hard hat! They had a service desk and could check out materials to students and faculty — even though most of their collections were located off-site at the old campus. Look for a piece — forthcoming in OLA Quarterly — by Library Assistant, Linden How and Sara Bystrom, Library Access Services Manager, on how they lived through the transition.  

The final product was well worth the initial chaos. Natural light floods the atrium, with two-story ceilings and a wall of gorgeous original windows one one side juxtaposed with a cable-suspended concrete mezzanine balcony on the other. The effect of this mezzanine — a whole new floor in the restored historic building — is breathtaking. It gives the library a feeling of openness and chic Bohemian charm.    

And it is extremely easy to find — just enter the building, turn left and walk in! It could not be any more prominently featured, and this is undeniably “one of the best things about our new space,” according to Technical Services and Archives Librarian, Serenity Ibsen. Ibsen graciously showed me around around on a rainy afternoon (along with my Watzek Library colleague, Dan Kelley, who took the photos). She shared her thoughts about the new Albert Solheim Library and how it is being used.  

There are two service points on opposite ends of the the first floor — the circulation desk and an IT Help Desk (a popular relocation of this service). In between is an atrium, called the Crumpacker Family Reading Room, furnished with high-backed privacy seating and arc reading lamps. There is also a cluster of workstations and a long counter space with plugins and a view out the windows. On the afternoon we visited, the reading chairs were empty, but there were people at the workstations and at the counter on laptops. Faculty and student art is on display, though one tradeoff of having so many high windows is that they have less wall-space than they did before for exhibits. Transparent sunshades prevent glare.

On the mezzanine level, there is a reference desk (the previous library did not have one), as well as several study rooms, which are heavily used. There is another long counter along the edge of the balcony, with a view of the windows and atrium. Much of the collection is also shelved on this floor. Ibsen told us that when the space first opened, there was one study nook with comfortable seating, but library staff felt this was insufficient. So they shifted the collection and took out several shelves to create two new nooks at either end of the balcony — one with an appealing turquoise sofa and grey chairs and another with two magenta upholstered chairs.  

(Click each thumbnail in the gallery below for the full photo and caption information.)

Ibsen describes herself as a “nester” and says that when she uses libraries she always seeks out places to sit that are tucked away. She has observed that many PNCA students have similar preferences, and she says she has noticed another advantage of locating seating in the stacks. “They look up from what they are doing and something entices them. Then you see them pulling a book from the shelf.” Of course, the PNCA Library has some very eye-catching books, including an extensive collection of graphic novels — shelved in close proximity to one of the nooks. Intermingling seating areas and and books helps facilitate contemplation and collision with collections. The addition of the two nooks on the mezzanine is a fine counterbalance to the more social space of the Crumpacker Family Reading Room.

One factor impacting the library space on the mezzanine it that there is no library elevator — only stairs. And since the mezzanine was added as a new floor, it is not serviced by the building’s existing elevators. There is a freight elevator, but it is outside the library and not open to the public. So wheelchair access to the mezzanine involves staff intervention, which is hardly ideal. Ibsen says that they are hoping to be able to install an ADA lift inside the library to alleviate this issue. “We clearly have some accessibility issues and are working to implement solutions,” she said. Working to reimagine older buildings comes with challenges like that. Other usability issues with the new building have been identified, and there is a community putting pressure on PNCA to make sure that these — and other grievances — are addressed. You can read an update on those grievances here

The remodel was designed by renowned architect and Portland native, Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture. The building now occupied by PNCA was built as a federal post office, but also housed immigration and customs enforcement, U.S. Customs and other agencies over the years. The campus more than doubled in size in the new location, and so did the library. Linden How, sitting behind the circulation desk, said how much she loves the new space. “We have students who were used to the industrial look and feel of the old space and kind of miss it. But Ibsen was quick to add, “I don’t miss it at all.”


~ Kate Rubick, ACRL-OR Member at Large (2015-2017)
Instruction Services Librarian, Lewis & Clark College
rubick@lclark.edu