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

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