USFSP’s Poynter Library is a welcoming space for all
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Getting a first-rate education goes beyond absorbing knowledge in a classroom The model of “cram, memorize, regurgitate and forget” is (thankfully) long gone. The overall college experience includes the interactions students have with friends, mentors, faculty and staff as part of their daily routine.
Creating opportunities for those meaningful moments is one of our top priorities at USF St. Petersburg. There’s a term used by sociologists called “third places.” It refers to the places where people spend time outside of home (the first place) and work, or in this case, the classroom (second place).
Third places are the spots where people engage with one another, discuss ideas and laugh together. When you think of your own life, you probably have a third place you frequent, whether it’s a coffee shop, bookstore, recreation center or church. A third place often is a public setting that hosts frequent and informal gatherings of people – and people are loyal to their place, returning regularly to unwind, socialize and have fun.
At USF St. Petersburg, we think a lot about creating those “third places,” not just for our students but for all members of our community. One of the most popular is the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library (NPML). From the spacious outdoor deck to the first-floor gallery featuring local artists, the library is a place that is welcoming to all. If you ever want to see a bunch of happy students, be sure to stop by just before final exams, when the therapy dogs visit to soothe jangled nerves!
Of course, it is a gorgeous space with a robust history. It is named after Nelson Poynter, the late chairman of the board of the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) and Evening Independent and an early advocate for USF St. Petersburg.
In 1950, after the Merchant Marine training base at Bayboro Harbor was deactivated, Poynter started a campaign to persuade the city of St. Petersburg to donate the land to the state. He committed $500,000 himself to help buy additional land for the university’s expansion and was the top fundraiser for the first campus library.
On June 15, 1978, Poynter and his wife Marion were among those who participated in a groundbreaking to celebrate the first phase of the expansion of the campus. A few hours later, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He died later that evening. That library went on to become Bayboro Hall, where my office is located. The NPML as we know it today opened in 1996.
The library promotes the importance of research and provides unique resources, such as our Special Collections Reading Room, which offers students and researchers the opportunity to peruse rare books, personal manuscripts and archival materials on a variety of topics – from Mark Twain to natural history.
It also houses a robust digital collection, which includes the online archive of the Weekly Challenger, which has served as the voice of Pinellas County’s African American community for more than 50 years.
The library recently received a $1.25 million renovation, which was funded by a $1 million legacy gift from Josephine Hall, a senior citizen auditor of classes who regularly attended campus events, and a $250,000 gift from alumna and longtime supporter Lynn Pippenger. These incredibly generous supporters underscore the recognition of providing high-quality third-party spaces.
The upgrades include twelve new study rooms and state-of-the-art technology to enhance opportunities for collaboration and learning. The Student Technology Center, located on the first floor of the library, has been expanded and now features an updated digital makerspace and virtual reality studio where students can participate in robotics training and 3D printing.
The campus dean of the library, Kristina Keogh, is committed to expanding partnerships with community arts and cultural organizations. This year, the library partnered with Preserve the ‘Burg for the Place MattersSP Lecture Series, where speakers discussed architecture, place, sights, history and preservation in St. Petersburg. The series was so popular, they’re planning to continue it next fall.
For me, I love strolling through the library and seeing different groups of people enjoy the space. I think of Sir Richard Branson who said, “fun is one of the most important – and underrated – ingredients in any successful venture.” Any place where hope, knowledge and fun come together, that’s a place I want to hang out. It’s one of my favorite third spaces.
You are always invited to stop by, and I would encourage you to subscribe to the library’s newsletter, the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library [Bull]etin (I do love a good bull pun!).
That will help you stay connected to the news, art exhibits, community events and, of course, the therapy dogs. Who knows, maybe the NPML will become your third place, too.
Christian Hardigree is Regional Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg.