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O'Leary Learning Commons Continues to Evolve

Special Book Collections, Exhibit Space Help 'Illuminate Building from Within'

New space in O'Leary Library at UMass Lowell
Celebrating the donation of more than 300 books to the UMass Lowell Library's Portuguese Collection are, from left, Prof. Frank Sousa, FAHSS Dean Luis Falcon, Regional Director of the Azorean Communities Paulo Teves and Libraries Director George Hart.

By Ed Brennen

When O’Leary Library was transformed into O’Leary Learning Commons four years ago, the building’s emphasis smartly shifted from row after row of packed bookshelves to a modern, collaborative workspace where students had access to the latest technology and best scholarly databases.

Little by little, though, books have been creeping back into O’Leary. And that’s by design, according to Mehmed Ali, program and project coordinator for the UMass Lowell Libraries.

“The idea is to have books available for purposeful research, but also for the browsing element,” Ali says. “It’s for the person who wants to take a break from the calculus homework and maybe pick up a popular history or science book.”

The transition began last summer when the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, Portugal, donated more than 300 books to the library’s Portuguese Collection. Then in the fall, the university’s collection of photography books was moved from Lydon Library to O’Leary.  

And most recently, the “David Wunsch Collection” appeared on shelves scattered throughout the first floor of O’Leary — a collection made possible thanks to a $10,000 donation from David Wunsch, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering. 

Paulo Teves of the Azores looks at the books donated
Paulo Teves, left, and Prof. Frank Sousa browse through a book donated to the library's Portuguese Collection.

“I grew up in a world of books,” says Wunsch, whose childhood memories in Brooklyn, N.Y., are practically bound in hardcover. “My parents were both serious readers. My mother was a librarian and my father was a mechanical engineer who was always reading. I still remember him reading a passage from ‘Finnegans Wake.’ ”

That’s a big reason why Wunsch earmarked his donation solely for the purpose of buying books, preferably in the fields of humanities and the arts.

“I like this school a lot. I feel affection for it,” says Wunsch, who began teaching at Lowell Tech in 1969. He transitioned to adjunct status in 2002 before completely stepping down from teaching five years ago. Today he toils in his first-floor office in the Olney Science Center, writing textbooks and working as a book review editor for IEEE Technology and Society Magazine. His office shelves are brimming not only with books (of course), but also his collection of old radios.

While Wunsch’s research interests include the history of technology, there is one technological innovation he wants nothing to do with.

“I’ve never read an ebook. I’ve never been near one,” he says. “I want books. I often mark my books up heavily, and if it’s a cheap paperback, I may recycle it when I’m done with it because it’s such a mess. But I will not read an ebook in my lifetime.”

The David Wunsch Collection at OLeary
David Wunsch, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering, donated $10,000 for the purchase of new books at O'Leary Learning Commons.

Ali says more books will be added to O’Leary over the next two to three years, with English literature the next collection on deck this summer.

O’Leary’s mezzanine, meanwhile, has been turned into an exhibit space this year. Several different photo and art exhibits have been on display, including one on homeless families and another on domestic workers.

“We want to really showcase people’s great materials — by faculty, staff or students. It could be historical, it could be contemporary. Anything,” Ali says. “We want to create an atmosphere which helps illuminate the building from within.”