Sanctuary in the Stacks

The new Payson Library becomes the home away from residence halls for students

March 20, 2018  | 3 min read

There’s a quiet corner in the upstairs of Payson Library that Seaver College senior Kristin Vartan considers her own. This space is lined with cherrywood, and the self-proclaimed bibliophile says she practically lives there.

“I’m infatuated with books and I love to go there to study or read by myself. It’s become a place of sanctuary,” she says.

Vartan hasn’t always had this cozy relationship with Payson Library, which reopened in August 2017 following an ambitious 15-month renovation project. The journalism major remembers the library as being “inviting but dated, with a ’70s vibe”—definitely not a sanctuary. Yet when Payson Library reopened it became Vartan’s special place on campus where she learns, refreshes, and thrives.

Creating a beloved space for students—a “third space” beyond the dormitory or classroom—at Pepperdine’s Malibu campus was a top priority for the library’s renovation project. After all, history shows us that incredible things can happen when curious minds find the right setting in which to thrive; from the Founding Fathers gathering to visualize a new nation in Fraunces Tavern, New York, to the bustling Les Deux Magots in Paris, which became the social space for luminaries such as Simone de Beauvoir, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway to develop artistic and intellectual concepts in the 1920s and ’30s.

“Social” might not be the word you typically associate with a library. But Mark Roosa, dean of libraries, had this vibrant, Parisian café-style community in mind when he and the renovation committee began reimagining Payson Library a few years ago. Part of the project’s eventual success, he says, is owed to something he calls the “Starbucks Effect.” Focus groups revealed that the place where students studied the most outside of the residence halls was not the library but instead the Starbucks in Malibu, about a mile off campus.

Pepperdine students at Payson Library“It could have been another brand or a generic coffee shop, but I think the Starbucks Effect is a very real cultural phenomenon, and I think we actually underestimated its power in drawing people to the library,” Roosa notes. “Having it on the threshold makes a big difference. It’s an effective way of bringing people to the library and having them stay.”

It was a thrill felt throughout the University when the library reopened along with Pepperdine’s first branch of the famous coffee shop on the first floor—the lines were out the door every day during New Student Orientation. Roosa points out that in previous years students would use the library at the beginning of term, but then usage would flag until midterms or finals. The renovation has upended that completely.

“From day one, the new library has been filled with students. It’s very unusual,” says Roosa, adding that the renovation committee researched a variety of communal spaces, such as museums and cafés, for inspiration on how design, layout, and even furniture arrangement impacts consumer engagement and retention. “We made a point of designing many different spaces that people can call their own.”

The Special Collections wing, once only accessible by signing in with ID and leaving belongings in a locker, has been made “radically open” to engage students and faculty alike. Vartan, whose cozy corner of sanctuary is close to Special Collections, takes advantage of the opportunity to go through the 80-year archives of The Graphic, of which she is the first-ever director of engagement. Last year only a handful of classes were held in Special Collections, while approximately 30 classes took place there during the Fall 2017 semester.

“We’re seeing a real change in the tenor of the place—more teaching and learning than ever before. We have more requests for groups to meet in the library than we can accommodate,” Roosa says.

Elizabeth R. Smith (MA ’03, EdD ’16), assistant professor of journalism and director/advisor of Pepperdine Graphic Media, can usually be found farther up campus cheering on her Graphic staff in the Center for Communication and Business, but the Starbucks has brought her down to the library more than ever before.

“It’s so easy to get good coffee now, which has encouraged me to take meetings down there,” Smith says. “I always noticed there wasn’t a place on campus where students congregated, and this seems to  ll that need. Pepperdine has always been great at giving students a way to come together, but it’s usually targeted on a specific event or group activity. The library has become that general space to drink coffee, study, and meet up with friends.”

Following Payson Library’s successful reinvention as Pepperdine’s “third space” on campus is an administrative awareness that the University needs a fourth, fifth, and sixth space in which community can thrive outside of the classroom and dorms. A new student recreation and Events Center is in the planning stages as another multi-use space, and Roosa says this is just the beginning in a series of exciting spaces on campus.

“One thing we know is that students like to have a lot of choices in order to personalize and share experiences with one another,” he shares. “The library won’t be in competition with new spaces, but it has set the bar for a new campus social space. Each space will serve a different purpose. And that’s what we want—multiple meaningful spaces.”