Investing in the Heart of Teachers College | Teachers College Columbia University

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Investing in the Heart of Teachers College

A generous gift from Camilla and George Smith position the library for the future.

An $8 million gift from education philanthropists Camilla and George Smith will enable Teachers College to renovate the fourth floor of its Gottesman Libraries as the Camilla and George Smith Learning Theater. The new facility will support the next generation of faculty and student research and instruction and ensure that TC remains home to the world’s preeminent library in the field of education.

“Through this generous gift, we are continuing efforts to reimagine the role of the academic library,” said Gary Natriello, Ruth L. Gottesman Professor in Education Research and Director of the Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College. “The Learning Theater will be an experimental and demonstration space that positions TC students to become sophisticated, self-directed learners and supports TC faculty in doing their most imaginative and ambitious teaching.”

“We are delighted that the Smiths have chosen to fund the creation of the Learning Theater at Teachers College,” TC President Susan Fuhrman said. “This imaginative and forward-looking gift is particularly exciting because it will build on our overall technology platform as we embark on shaping the new Century of the Learner in education.”

The Smiths are committed supporters of public education who have served on the boards of both the National Public Radio Foundation and the Leakey Foundation for Research Related to Human Origins. Both have enjoyed successful careers in publishing. Camilla M. Smith, who earned a master’s degree from Teachers College in Language, Literature & Social Studies in 1972, serves as Director of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and as a member of the Advisory Board of the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley, where she edits Bancroftiana, the library’s newsletter.

“I believe the library is the key to any institution, and especially to an institution of learning,” she says. “Libraries have always been community spaces that mentor learning, but that need is even more critical in our digital age, when there is such a wealth of constantly changing information at our fingertips. Gary Natriello and the Teachers College library are in the forefront of shaping the role of libraries in our era, and I want to help them.”

Renovation of the ground-floor archives and materials processing center and three public floors of the library was completed in 2004 through a gift from TC Trustee Ruth Gottesman and her husband, Sandy.  The gift from the Smiths will initiate a second phase of development that Natriello describes as “both future-oriented and technology-enabled,” including fully immersive projection capabilities, like those employed in movies and high-definition television.

“We’ll be able to totally surround people with a set of projected images to make them feel they are in a different space,” Natriello says. “And through data display and visualizations, we’ll be able to put students in the middle of different processes to let them see how those processes emerge.”

Natriello says the Learning Theater—like the cultural medium of theater itself—will introduce challenging new ideas to the Teachers College community through high-end workshops, interactive research and other collaborative endeavors. “Like a formal theater, it will be flexible, reconfigurable and adaptable to the different needs of each project,” he says.

Library staff supporting the theater will function as “education executive producers,” meeting with client groups to learn their needs and help them reconfigure the space in ways that best reflect their subject and teaching methodology.

“Getting the general public to understand the importance of libraries is a critical step in our ability to bring libraries into the current era,” Camilla Smith says. “If the Learning Theater turns out as I believe it will, it will be a great model for institutions across the country.”

(Published 07/01/2013)

Published Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014