A-level Regenstein may become computer lab

By Robert Katz

Can’t get a computer on the A-level? That may soon change, as Network Systems and Information Technology (NSIT) is currently considering opening a new USITE center that will cover the entire Regenstein A-level. The new computer lab would be modeled after the USITE/Crerar, which opened up to rave reviews in 2000 for its innovative use of space and integration of cutting-edge technology.

University officials stressed that the project—if it is to be pursued—is in the planning stages, and there is no timetable for completion.

The discussion stems from a study of the Regenstein released last year that made several recommendations about the NSIT services. The study, called the Gensler report, specifically cited a demand for increasing the number of SunRay webstations on levels A, 1, 2, and 4, and the strategy of placing them near the staircase for maximal traffic flow.

The Gensler report also called for a digital media laboratory on the west side of the second-floor reading room, accessible to faculty and researchers.

Wireless access for the reading rooms was also mentioned in the study and has since been implemented.

According to Chad Kainz, the senior director of NSIT, the new USITE/Regenstein is “merely a concept on the table.” Though Kainz downplayed any significant progress, he said that the possibility has been a hot topic between NSIT and Regenstein organizers since the Gensler report’s publication.

“We have not moved beyond the rough concept at this time, and given that there is no funding, there are no concrete plans,” Kainz said. “Therefore, we intend to have a much more formal brainstorming process, and will commit more time over the course of this academic year to firm up a detailed USITE/Regenstein concept by spring.”

Kainz added that the project would hope to build off of the success of the recent technological improvements, especially those made at Crerar.

“In looking at the possibilities for a USITE/Regenstein, both the library and NSIT want to continue with what was started with USITE/Crerar and work to meld the future possibilities and current capabilities with the academic needs of campus,” Kainz said.

Martin Runkle, the director of the Regenstein, expressed a similar view, saying that he had had several discussions about the possibility of an expanded computer laboratory. “There hasn’t yet been any serious planning,” Runkle said. “However, the University has many, many priorities for funding, and the national (and international) financial situation right now makes it necessary that priorities be set rather rigorously.”

The capabilities of the USITE/Crerar lab include the general computing laboratory, a digital media wall with scanning and video stations, collaboration spaces (oval booths behind the glass wall), a seminar area with data projection, a computer classroom, and video- conferencing capabilities.

This collaborative use of space in computer labs is different from most universities around the country. “The whole idea of a computer lab not simply being a barn to put computers in was completely novel,” Kainz said.

Kainz said he sees potential for USITE/Regenstein to develop a set of distinctive characteristics that would set it apart from other labs: it is close to Max Palevsky Residential Commons, it is a 24-hour study space, and most of the humanities and social science resources are already there.

USITE/Crerar is situated relatively far from most student housing, and its bookstacks focus mainly on the biological and physical sciences.

Kainz said he would like to study USITE/Crerar on our own campus and learn from its influence on institutions such as Emory, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Florida, and Valparaiso, University to gain new ideas for the USITE/Regenstein.

Shirley Baker, the vice chancellor for information technology at Washington University, was a graduate student at Chicago shortly after the Regenstein opened. She is impressed with its recent improvements, including lockable bookshelves.

While drawing up renovation plans for Washington’s Olin Library, Baker and her staff were “trying to come up with a plan that would meet our users’ needs without being just a room full of rows of computers,” she said.

Baker brought her architects and building committee to the University to see the Crerar renovations, and eventually included many features of the USITE/Crerar center into their own plans.

“We opened our library at the end of the spring semester [this year], and it has been very popular since then,” Baker said.