North Carolina State University Hunt Library

Mission: Redefine the library

Whatever your preconceptions about what a library is, or can be, they might be changed when you walk into the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University.

Within its 250,000 square feet are the fruits of a collaborative effort designed to create a new kind of library, one that would serve companies and academia as a first-class research facility.

“A traditional library wouldn’t work because that wasn’t the main focus,” explains Maurice York, director of NC State’s IT department. “We had to figure out what a research facility meant in this day and age.”

“We’re really picky about our technology,” says York. “It was a very measured process of doing an evaluation of the companies. We needed companies flexible and open to the way they were willing to work with us.”

“”The audio visual design is extremely complex because of (our) requirements. AVI-SPL’s role was to come in at the implementation level and bring that to reality.” – Maurice York, IT director, N.C. State

But while York and his staff could be picky about IT elements, which they know quite well, the AV world was new to them.

“We knew we needed a lot of help to do this,” says York. “We worked nearly two years to build up an ecosystem of partners to pitch the idea of this facility.”

The library sits on N.C. State’s Centennial campus, which blends corporate and academic research and is home to the fourth-largest engineering school in the country. In explaining the concept of the library, York describes it as a technology sandbox for the campus, one able to support rare and experimental technologies that could be shared among the colleges.

“We didn’t go the conservative route,” York says. “We designed to the cutting edge, to equipment that had just been announced. Put it in a 24/7 facility and you provide something that has an immense amount of value and redefines the library.”

The Sextant Group, one of the most highly respected technology consulting firms, brought AVI-SPL into the project as integrator.

“The audio visual design is extremely complex because of those requirements,” says York.  “AVI-SPL’s role was to come in at the implementation level and bring that to reality.”

Action: Supporting the Lifecycle of Research

Working from designs by Sextant, AVI-SPL engineers and technicians transformed multiple library spaces into collaboration areas, including team rooms, an auditorium, and conference rooms. In many of these areas, Christie Digital projectors provide the video. Other solutions include cameras, speakers, microphone boxes, Sharp video displays and Cisco video conferencing – all to create spaces designed for ease of collaboration and presentation. A SMART Podium, which allows digital annotations during lectures, is in many of these rooms to support the collaboration initiative.

Biamp AudiaFlex, a digital audio distribution system, manages all of the mixing and voice-over-IP throughout the library. AMX Modero touch panels give users control over each piece of audio visual equipment.

For a multipurpose space, AVI-SPL installed four screens and projectors, as well as wireless mics and speakers, and a portable capture workstation that records events and presentations and uploads them to the library’s media site for access by students and faculty. In the iPearl Immersion Theater, 112 Christie MicroTiles (20-square inches each) extend in a curved array, 7 high by 16 wide. To facilitate communication with students, faculty and guests, Cisco digital media players feed information to 11 displays and three kiosks situated throughout the building.

The Creativity Studio was the most complex room of the integration. This configurable space on the fourth floor can be turned into eight to 10 smaller rooms, each with AV functionality. Six Christie projectors are situated in pairs on opposite ends of the room. Two of the brightest projectors edge blend onto a 20-foot by 40-foot curved screen. Because of the open ceiling architecture, AVI-SPL employed Tannoy pendant speakers (very similar in look to pendant lights that hang from the ceiling), to create positional audio. Video and audio signals in this area run over fiber connections, which can handle longer runs without loss of signal. Receivers convert those signals to HDMI before sending them to the projectors. Video conferencing is available via connection to the Cisco C90 codec in the main IT workroom.

The IT workroom is, as AVI-SPL Project Manager Mike Cenzer calls it, “the brains of the system,” an AV/IT hub featuring racks of equipment that host media it sends over fiber. All the AMX control ties into here, as does Christie’s video processing Vista Spyder. IT staff scan an access card across the AMX MXT touch panel to start the system and manage devices, including video conferencing. That centralization also makes it easier for one person to operate and maintain the technology.

Impact: The Tools to Create Tomorrow’s Technology

York says this IP-based system supports the research and mission of the building, which is to work as an integrated whole that supports the lifecycle of research: brainstorming, critiquing, and the late phases that produce finished pieces. That system also provides a flexible environment where faculty and students can use any room, knowing the technology they need will be there.

The Hunt Library, which celebrated its grand opening in April, has already been profiled in numerous publications, including Time magazine. As one learns about each area of the library, the reason for its popularity quickly becomes clear: This is a versatile, empowering space. Through its digital media network, powered by Cisco, the university sends notice of events, announcements, and other internally generated content.

State staff and engineers use the Cisco TelePresence room to connect with other universities and companies. Areas like the auditorium and multipurpose area are used for lectures, watching live events and distance learning.

The Gaming Lab gave a home to N.C. State’s gaming research program, which is one of top 20 in the country. The program wanted a space that would allow different disciplines to collaborate. In this area, students play and study video games for new and classic systems on Christie MicroTiles in a 5-by-16 array. Vista Spyder processors deliver a full surround set-up, and an AMX system manages the screens for gaming, windowing, and multi-led lighting. Players can use their hands like a computer mouse thanks to an interactivity touch kit from Christie.

Students, staff and faculty watch a variety of visual content on the video wall in the Immersion Theater. When it’s not reserved for a particular video or presentation, the library runs a promotional video loop. Behind the seating area, a 20-inch AMX Modero touch panel manages the content. The Art Wall, located above the “Ask Us” area, displays high-resolution images as well as movies across its 8-by-15 array of MicroTiles.

In the Creativity Studio, students and engineering faculty deliver presentations on surfaces like displays, the walls and floor. Theatrical lighting helps create environments that are realistic and work in conjunction with the visuals. Everything – including the walls, projectors and displays — is moveable, and the design offers easy access to equipment. Here, the Navy runs virtual training exercises by using audio visual solutions that allow them to simulate any vessel under any weather conditions and in any location.

Outside the nearby Teaching and Visualization Lab, a series of Christie video columns show artistic visuals and occasionally what goes on inside the lab. Inside, 10 Christie stereoscopic projectors provide 3D images that create a 270-degree immersive environment.

“All the capability we hoped for is there,” York says.

When a faculty member wanted an interface that would give him greater control over the windowing on the Christie displays, York found student programmers eager to work on the project. The library opened up the Vista Spyder API to them, and those students created a web interface for anybody to create the number of windows they wanted.

“It’s a total industry changer and totally non-destructive,” says York. “To open up the hardware, networking, and interfaces — that was a radical idea. We’re not trying to train people how to use technology. We’re training engineers on building the next leading-edge technology.”