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

A new multiuse library-archives and learning facility will form the heart of Albright College’s campus.

Now 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 look 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 include the library and an academic center, including areas for tutoring, academic coaching, accessibility services and career development. Study and meeting spaces were designed with flexible configurations, built-in technology and tools for digital scholarship.

A history and cultural center on the second floor will house the history department and incorporate major historical and cultural collections. The Albright archives and special collections along with three rare collections of artifacts and records the J. Bennett Nolan local history collection, Edwin and Alma N. Lakin Holocaust Resource Center and pieces from the Central Pennsylvania African American Museum will form its backbone.

The college archives document the life of Albright through materials created by students, faculty and staff during their time at the college. The special collections include rare books, manuscripts, photographs and other items requiring archivally appropriate protection because of their rarity, value or relevance to Albright.

J. Bennett Nolan, a Reading attorney, was the author of numerous books on local history topics. He bequeathed his vast collection of resources to the college on 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) But he was a 1951 graduate of Albright. She died in 2012. With her partner, Albert Boscov, Edwin Lakin built the Boscov’s department store chain into one of the largest family-owned retailers in the US 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 age 82, devoted his life to preserving Black history in Berks County and beyond, amassing a collection of more than 500 artifacts and historical records, which became the foundation 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 façade, indicating possible structural issues. As a precaution, the facility was closed and collections were sorted and moved from the building.

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

With pandemic restrictions winding down, the project has been accelerated, she saidnoting the completion goal is set for some time in 2023.

Fundraising for the project is ongoing, she said. So far, the college has raised about $ 10.4 million towards the $ 16.5 million project goal.

The amount includes a $ 1 million state grant provided through the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The program is administered through the Office 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 Sen. Judy Schwank, an advocate for the project.

The Gingrich Library has served students, faculty, and community members since its construction in 1964, according to the college website.

Its collection includes more than 352,000 print and electronic books, periodicals, records, audiovisual materials and a wealth of digital resources.

When the building opened, students formed a chain from Alumni Hall, where the library had been located, to the new structure. Books were passed from student to student into 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 materials, and studying and learning have evolved, according to the college website.

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