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Lydon Library Transformed

Katen Learning Commons Opens

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Commuter students Hannah Wallace, a freshman biology major, and junior Alvaro Molina, a plastics engineering major, chat with Paul Katen ’64, whose donation created the new Katen Learning Commons in Lydon Library.

By Sandra Seitz and Nichole Carter

Step into Lydon Library on UMass Lowell’s North Campus and enter the world of a modern university library. Comfortable chairs for reading, group study areas, a computer lab and classroom – these reflect the varied sources of learning.

The library’s second floor has been transformed into a learning commons through the support of the largest gift ever to the University Libraries – $230,000 – from Cheryl Vasey Katen ’66, Plastics Engineering, and Paul Katen ’64, Physics. 

The campus community dedicated the Katen Learning Commons during the Celebration of Philanthropy Friday, Oct. 28, which included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, tour of the facility and demonstrations of the latest library research technology. 

The Commons includes group study spaces outfitted with 60: LCD screens, state-of-the-art furnishings and layouts, couches with built-in electrical outlets, wireless access and a teaching lab with 35 workstations for library instruction.

“This new space is perfect,” says John Labossiere, a sophomore business student who was studying in the Katen Learning Commons in one of the private study rooms during the event. “The space is well-equipped and the furniture is comfortable — important for students like me who spend four to five hours a day here. Seeing changes like these happening on campus makes me proud to be a UML student.”

The Katens met in this library nearly 50 years ago, when they were both students at the Lowell Technological Institute. Cheryl was studying in the balcony, Paul remembers, and he noticed her right away. 

During the ceremony, Paul remarked that in those days, few women attended Lowell Tech — by his estimation, maybe 30 to 40. While Cheryl was one of the only women on campus studying in a field dominated by men, she felt comfortable in the library, where peers were united in their studies and in learning.

“I always loved studying there,” said Cheryl. “A library is the heart and soul of a university. That’s why we chose the gift we did.”

The Katens’ gift is divided between funding for technical journals – North Campus still being the home of sciences, engineering and management – and the new learning center.

UMass Lowell has been at the forefront of moving to online journals, growing from 2,000 print titles to more than 40,000 online. Pat Noreau, recently retired library director and longtime head of technical services, has guided and welcomed the change.

“We have to be able to provide users with the fastest way to find the information they need ...  to help them navigate different platforms of databases,” she says. 

Noreau stayed on after retirement to oversee the library renovations in Lydon and O’Leary. 

“We did extensive focus groups with students,” she says. “We learned that not only are they interested in having access to the latest technology, they also want a quiet place to study. The Learning Commons give them both.”