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‘The Library as a Microcosm of the Campus’

New Neilson

  • October 4, 2021
  • By Hélène Visentin
Illustration of an orange person with green curly hair and two pink people with lots of sketchy idea icons

A Space for Shared Learning

AS A PROFESSOR OF FRENCH, I am inspired by using the new Neilson Library for my teaching and research. As associate dean of the faculty and dean for academic development, I am even more excited to exploit this resource to cultivate alliances among students and faculty, with the specific aim of building bridges across disciplines and generations of young, midcareer, and senior scholars.

A research library is akin to a utility plant, a hub that generates and distributes intellectual currents developed across social and professional networks. One of my principal roles in the provost’s office is to support a vibrant academic community for faculty, so the new library and the values it represents are central to my work.

Smith has invested in renewed, modern spaces for Special Collections, research, and digital assets, but it has also adopted a “maker” mindset with labs for media production, podcasting, and spatial analysis. This investment in collaborative “intellectual production” is redoubled in the Learning Commons, where students receive peer tutoring services and support.

This word—commons—is especially important to me. Neilson Library is a “learning common” writ large. It is the physical corollary of what we are developing on many fronts at Smith College—humanities and social sciences labs, writing and public discourse initiatives, new concentrations, the Celebrating Collaborations project, etc.—forums in which classroom walls disappear, barriers between siloed disciplines are torn down, and students and faculty engage with their subjects in a more immediate and public-facing way.

Whether I introduce Neilson Library to new faculty or emeritae/i, I always stress the importance of using the library as a microcosm of the campus: a collaborative, multidisciplinary, and pangenerational space for shared learning, teaching, and creating.


""Hélène Visentin is associate dean of the faculty, dean for academic development, and professor of French studies at Smith.

This story appears in the Fall 2021 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.


Illustration by Aya Kakeda