The James B. Hunt Jr. Library has been aptly described as a “technology sandbox.” It certainly seems that way to the faculty and students who teach and learn there. Collaborative platforms allow unheard-of levels of interactivity between teachers and students, who can now display their work on huge video walls with luminosity levels and in 5.1 highly directed audio that would make either Hollywood or the Pentagon envious.
But those two institutions are also some of the many participants that will benefit from this sandbox, because NC State is key cog in North Carolina’s broader Research Triangle, where academe, industry, government and military routinely intersect, creating new technologies and products from that massive synergy. That’s what makes the new Hunt Library so vital: it’s a reinvention of the very notion of a library, from repository to laboratory and imaginarium, which can address a broad range of work from engineering to chemistry to software. Think Disney only with much better lasers. Putting that together takes the idea of the storied convergence between A/V and IT to another plane.
The 221,000 square foot facility opened in April 2013 on the Centennial Campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh at a cost of $115 million and it was a huge challenge to pull together, recalls Maurice York, head of Information Technology for NCSU Libraries, NC State University.
“It needed to be able to be a research and development environment that could also take a product from a conceptual stage through prototyping and into a final end-product stage, all in a single place. We had to figure out what the right mix of spaces and technologies would be for that,” he says.
What the Library became is a sleek warren of complex interactivity, one that simultaneously beckons and challenges its occupants. There are five primary A/V environments: the Game Lab, the Teaching and Visualization Lab, the Immersion Theater, the Creativity Studio and the Auditorium. Each space has a completely different technology focus and design program. For instance, the Immersion Theater serves as a presentation space for faculty and students to discuss and review their projects. It features a 20-foot curved display wall, made up of some of the 492 Christie MicroTiles that comprise the displays throughout all five spaces, as well as the five Christie Spyder X20 video processors that manage that video, which in some cases approach 7K in native resolution. Sound throughout the facility uses Sennheiser K-array KK102 thin-line modular line arrays, which were able to provide full-range audio in an extremely small footprint.
Getting great A/V technology wasn’t the hard part, says York. It was choosing which to use from a cornucopia of high-tech providers who wanted to be part of the prestigious project. York says choices had to be made based on a number of critical factors, including the ability to scale, ease of use and maintenance. For example, one of the reasons they chose the Christie video wall components is it offers the ability to replace a single tile when needed without disrupting the wall’s use, and the potential for future-proofing.
“We had to look for things that would not only enable the program, but would also be sustainable,” says York. “To do that, we had to literally get inside their technologies. Typically, an educational technology center like this has to be within two years of the state of the art to be safe, but we have to be right at the edge, all the time, to make this attractive not only to students and teachers but also to everyone who would want to use its resources.”