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Beyond Books

May 13, 2013 1:17 PM, By Tim Kridel

Building the multimedia library of the future


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What is a library supposed to be these days? That fundamental question created a host of AV challenges and opportunities at North Carolina State University’s James B. Hunt, Jr. Library, which opened earlier this year to accolades, including the distinction as one of the world’s “25 coolest college libraries.”

Much of that cool factor comes from the generous amount of AV, which both reflects and enhances NCSU’s reputation as one of the world’s top schools for engineering and technology. For example, NCSU’s degrees include a minor in game development, so the Hunt Library includes a lab with features such as gesture-enabled interactivity and “stealth glass” that turns opaque with the flip of a switch to hide games in development.

Another example is the visualization lab, which features 32 ceiling speakers, a surround-sound system, 10 projectors, and 280 degrees of immersive video. It’s used for applications such as viewing 3D renderings of buildings or cells. Once a month, the U.S. Navy uses the room to train ROTC sailors.

“The front wall is displayed as if you’re looking out the bridge of a ship, and the sides are flatpanel displays that emulate portholes,” says Mark Valenti, president and CEO of The Sextant Group, which was the library’s technology consultant.

Longer and wider than a football field, Hunt Library still has books, but two million of them are compacted into one-ninth the space that a traditional library requires. That efficiency comes from bookBot, an automated system that retrieves books within minutes of a request. In the process, bookBot frees up space for more AV and IT systems to achieve NCSU’s vision of how libraries are evolving.

“The vision of the library is not as a warehouse for books but as a portal for access to digital information of all kinds,” Valenti says. “In our minds at the Sextant Group, the library of the future is one of visualization, multimedia access and collaboration. This building is chock full of those spaces and technologies.”

The upshot essentially was a blank slate for Sextant, AVI-SPL, Biamp Systems, and the other companies involved with the project.

“A library is a different thing now,” says Julian Treasure, The Sound Agency chairman and one of the presenters at the library’s April 17 dedication. “It’s not like the old days, when it was ‘Shhh!’ and all you heard was the rustling of pages.

“Now a library is a place where you can do collaborative work, experience multimedia, listen to audio, see a movie. So the function of the space is different than what it used to be.”



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