Transforming Lavery Library

April 5, 2024

With its repository of research journals, teeming stacks of books, and archival materials, Lavery Library has served the St. John Fisher University for nearly 50 years, helping countless students, faculty, and staff accomplish their scholarly pursuits. Now, the University has begun work on a multimillion-dollar modernization and renovation to the library, the largest capital project both in scope and investment in the institution’s history.

Architectural rendering of the renovated Lavery Library from Golisano Gateway

The University began exploring ways to revitalize and modernize the space several years ago, embracing the opportunity to build a collegiate library that serves as the center of academic life on campus.

In 2021, Fisher contracted with Brightspot, a planning firm that specializes in creating spaces to enhance the student experience at colleges and universities, to conduct a thorough study of the library space and services, as well as the needs and expectations of the students, to better understand the current state and identify opportunities for the future. Their work included interviews with University leadership, faculty and staff, and students; a series of feedback workshops open to the campus; and a peer comparison report that studied and compared Fisher with eight peer institutions. The report recommended programmatic shifts in the way in which the library delivers its services today, with a focus on more coordinated services and a better use of the space.

Following the study, Fisher partnered with HOLT Architects, an Ithaca-based firm with an expertise in the higher education vertical, whose design was guided by Brightspot’s findings. The design includes the creation of a bright, welcoming public lobby and lounge space; a sharpened book collection that will meet the needs of today’s curriculum; the centralization of a suite of student services including Fisher’s Center for Career and Academic Planning, Student Accessibility Services, and the Writing and Tutoring Center; and the transformation of student work spaces to include increased seating, flexible areas for truly quiet study, collaborative areas for group work, and technology rich classrooms.

“This is a historic project for the University, one that reimagines an iconic campus building and expands its purpose to provide current and future students with coordinated services and resources,” said President Rooney. “The transformation of the physical space will mirror the supportive culture already established in the Fisher educational experience.”

The renovations are being funded through a blend of institutional investments, individual philanthropy, and grant programs. In the fall, Fisher received $5 million from the New York State Higher Education Capital (HECap) Matching Grant Program. HECap provides matching grants to private, not-for-profit colleges and universities across the state for projects that create construction jobs and drive investment in communities. The prep work began in December 2023, with Pittsford-based construction management company Hamilton Stern Construction serving as the contractor for the project. As students returned from the holiday break, exterior work was in full swing and the library had moved to its temporary location in Kearney Hall. Other departments and resources including the Center for Career and Academic Planning, Higher Education Opportunity Program, Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, and Global Education - who also call the library home - have been temporarily moved as well.

Fisher Provost Dr. Kevin Railey said decisions for the renovations were directly tied to the academic mission and vision of the University, as well as the University’s Strategic Plan.

“A central theme to Dr. Rooney’s presidency is student success and how to make Fisher a more energized, student-centered institution,” said Railey. “This building will be the physical embodiment of our promise to the students that we bring here. It will be transformational in terms of structural design, but also truly represents our mission and what we stand for.”

Student success has been at the forefront of the Library’s creators from the start.

The first home of Fisher’s library was in the tower of Kearney Hall. Before students stepped foot inside a classroom, Rev. Robert Flood, CSB, was carefully curating the contents, cataloging each book as it came in. Two years into enrollment, at the start of the 1953-54 academic year, the library had moved to the second floor of Kearney and housed 10,000 books, with an additional 20,000 in storage waiting to be cataloged. Even in these early years, technology played a role. A projector was purchased in the summer of 1953 for $70, in order to reduce the space needed for periodicals, as many were available on microfilm.

The quality of the library - especially for a young institution - was said to be one of the factors that attributed to Fisher earning accreditation in 1957 after only two graduating classes. Still, space was already a concern, and the library increased its footprint on the second floor to accommodate growth. By the time Fr. Flood transferred to Assumption University in 1960, the collection had grown to 36,000 volumes and 500 current periodicals, with an extensive backfile of magazines.

The library would remain on the second floor of Kearney for nearly two decades, though there was talk of having its own dedicated space even in the earliest years. Meeting diverse learning needs was challenging in the cramped space. Those who sought a quiet study space were met with students who wanted to do group work, and adding technology became more difficult.

On June 22, 1973 - the Feast of St. John Fisher - a group that included Bishop James E. Kearney, Rev. Hugh Haffey, President Charles Lavery, and the Fisher Board of Trustees gathered to break ground for a new multimillion dollar library. Described as a “learning center,” the 50,000 square foot space was designed by architect Louis Rossetti to accommodate growth for the next 25 years, into the year 2000.

A main focus of the planning was students connecting with one another, as well as accessing different technologies and special collections. Former Director Robert Gullo touted the 150 electric carrels for television monitoring and equipment including micrographs, tape recordings, and computer technology. To offer more immersive learning, special collections were featured, including a room devoted to regional history and artifacts. Building efforts were supported by the Rochester community, including a $250,000 gift from Eastman Kodak and a grant from the Kresge Foundation.

While under construction, the building, called the Library-Learning Center, was an essential part of the master plan for the growth of Fisher, and would also help celebrate the College’s 25th anniversary. It was named Lavery Library, in honor of Fisher’s president, Father Charles Lavery, when it opened in 1975.

Lavery Library quickly became a popular space on campus. In addition to new technologies, the space boasted quiet study areas as well as group space, and had seats for 500 students across three floors.

Over the next 50 years, Lavery Library would continue to grow and evolve within its original footprint. Microfilm technology and television carrells were replaced by newer technologies. As academic programs were added to the curriculum, Library staff added books and periodicals. New special collections were built to enhance student learning, and spaces were adjusted to welcome more group work.

A lot of growth has happened in those five decades, bringing the library to the present day. Library Director Melissa Jadlos said the transformation will provide services that are available to help students at each point in their academic journey - from their first day on campus until their last including the transition to a career or graduate studies.

“When I first came to Fisher in 2006, you walked in the front door and you couldn’t see daylight. There was so much stuff on the first level,” she said. “Over time, the Library staff worked to open up areas to create more natural light, bring in more comfortable furniture, and relaxed restrictions on food and drink, helping to make Lavery Library a more welcoming and inviting space for students.”

Reimagining and reconfiguring the physical space are not the only items Jadlos deems necessary. That means continuing to bring her staff of research librarians out from behind the circulation desk and into the space, where they can best help integrate the academic support and career services functions that will occupy the space.

According to Jadlos, today’s librarians serve a teaching role, helping students develop critical thinking skills, in addition to assisting in the search for resources needed to accomplish their academic goals. Lavery librarians are specialized experts in specific subjects and disciplines. They play an integral role in First-Year Seminars and learning communities, in addition to assisting students engaged in advanced research or scholarship.

“I have always felt very strongly that the students are the center of what we do, rather than spending our time monitoring and shushing the space,” Jadlos said.

The renovations will also include a new reading room in which to display the University’s unique special collections, which include a large holding of K-12 resource materials, a collection of diaries from the 1830s to the 1950s, and original photographs of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

“Special collections and resource materials can invigorate community engagement in scholarship,” Jadlos explained. “Right now, our collections are tucked away in rooms throughout the Library. We are excited to now bring them together in a secure, climate-controlled space where we can preserve them for the future, but also give the campus community the space to work with them.”

The renovations also will continue an effort to bring student success services under one roof. In 2018, the Center for Career and Academic Planning (CCAP) brought together career services and academic advising in an open concept space on the first floor of Lavery. Last year, the Writing and Tutoring Center relocated to the lower level of the building, creating a one-stop shop for student success. Under the redesigned layout, CCAP will have a space unto itself, as will the Tutoring Center.

“It’s about keeping people visible,” Jadlos said. “During the time that the building is being renovated, we will be able to focus on how all of these entities can work together to help students succeed.”

The Library is situated in the heart of campus between LeChase Commons, the Donald E. Bain Campus Center, and Upper Quad. Railey said the committee also considered ways to play up the Library’s centrality in terms of how people access the building. There will now be two front doors, so the building is accessible from either the Commons or Quad, creating a pathway from the residential and academic quads through to the bright and open space created by the renovation.

“This project will create a library that will be a space that nurtures intellectual discovery and academic achievements, and instills a passion for lifelong learning, fostering student success which is what we aim to do each and every day at Fisher,” said Jadlos. “I am proud to say that the library has always served as a welcoming place on campus, and the renovated space will allow for an even bigger impact on the student experience for today’s students and for generations to come, creating a strengthened hub for all to create, connect, learn, and succeed. It has been an exciting project to be a part of thus far.”