A student takes a break from reading to gaze out a picturesque, curved glass facade at a busy University Avenue, shade trees swaying in the breeze and the Morgantown skyline beyond.

Nearby, another student types quietly on a laptop computer.

A few feet away yet another student searches for a book among the many shelves while a fourth studies in a computer-equipped carrel.

Welcome to the library of the future at West Virginia University: a five-story, 124,000-square-foot brick building designed to integrate four branch libraries under one roof and meet the technological needs of the 21st century.

The new library sits in front of the Charles C. Wise Jr. Library on WVU ’s Downtown Campus; a glass-encased atrium with a skylight joins the two buildings.

The facility opened Monday (Jan. 14) with the start of the spring semester. Workers will next commence with a one-year renovation of Wise Library. The cost of both the new construction and renovations is $36 million.

“Libraries across the country are reinventing themselves,”said Dean Frances OBrien.”Our primary role remains that of a cultural repository for knowledge in books, journals and reference materials, but our means of making these materials available is changing thanks to the Internet. The new facility at WVU is at the forefront of this transformationthe library as both a quiet place to read and study and an on-line resource.

“Wise Library, WVU s main library, was built in 1931 when we had 3,500 students and a collection of 300,000 volumes,”OBrien added.”Today, 10 libraries around campus provide 22,000 students with access to more than 1.4 million volumes. Wise has served WVU well, but providing for the needs of a new generation of students raised on technology demands that we upgrade our facilities.”

The new library features a primary service floor, complete with a circulation desk and reference materials; one floor for periodicals; two floors of stacks that holds 348,000 books; and a multimedia floor that houses government documents, electronic classrooms, and rooms for viewing videos or holding teleconferences. Technology available to library users includes 180 computers, 35 media-equipped workstations and 32 wireless laptops.

The top two floors with the stacks exemplify the project’s overall goal of combining the traditional use of a library with technological changes. The bookshelves occupy the center of the floors. About them are reading table width=100%s with outlets for laptop computers, carrels with desktop computers, group study rooms and lounge seating. The two floors also offer a spacious view of the Downtown Campus and Morgantown’s waterfront.

Nowhere is the librarys technology capabilities more apparent than on the multimedia floor. There are group study rooms with a 42-inch high-definition television screen, keyboard and Internet connections to allow users to participate in e-conferences, view films and prepare presentations. Internet and cable connections on this floor enable the library to deliver live video, network news and digitized video archives through its web site.

“Its a quantum leap from anything weve ever done before,”said Dennis Newborn, head of library systems.

Structurally, the new building features a lot of glass on the facade and back and a lobby made possible by a $250,000 gift from the WVU Alumni Association. A wheelchair ramp and three elevators make the facility accessible to the handicapped.

Plans for Wise Library, meanwhile, call for restoring it as a quasi-cultural center, with space set aside for the West Virginia and Regional History Collection and WVU ’s art collections. The facilitywhich will retain its original limestone facadewill also house general book collections,”wired”reading rooms and offices.

The downtown library complex made possible by the new construction and renovations will consolidate library services now available in Wise, the Chemistry Research Building, and Colson and White halls.

In conjunction with the ongoing construction, the library is conducting a campaign to raise funds to furnish the new and renovated facilities. Donors to the WVU Library Special Initiative will have their name linked to the furniture their gifts enable the library to purchase. Naming opportunities range from $150 for reader chairs to $5,000 for study carrels and information kiosks.

Several rooms and galleries will bear the names of people who have already made substantial gifts to the campaign. They include the James V. and Ann Pozega Milano Reading Room, named for couple who met while attending WVU more than 60 years ago; and the James A. Robinson Reading Room, named for the former president of the WVU Foundation.

The new library is one of four construction projects included in the first phase of WVU ’s facilities master plan, a 10-year campus renewal program totaling more than $250 million. Other projects include a $26 million office complex the University has been leasing from the WVU Foundation since June, a $34 million Student Recreation Center that opened in July and a $43 million Life Sciences Building scheduled to open in May 2002.