THERE IS NO mistaking the center of learning at the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus in Catonsville.
The imposing seven-story tower of glass, granite, aluminum and concrete that connects wings of the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery stands as a turreted bulwark of the academic complex.
While the new $20 million Library Tower makes an architectural statement for UMBC, it also proclaims an expanded mission of learning for the 29-year-old institution.
The greatly enlarged college library is not only open to enrolled students and faculty, but to the Baltimore community as well. The public may have free access to the library facilities and, for a modest annual fee, may borrow books from the Kuhn collection of more than 600,000 bound volumes.
Traditional books are only a part of the offerings of the new green-and-gray landmark. There are hookups for 1,000 computers, and terminals to link up to the Internet's World Wide Web of graphic information. The media section includes CD-ROMs, videos, audiotapes and microfilm collections.
The UMBC center also affords on-line access to the 13 libraries of the University of Maryland System and its catalog of more than 1.5 million books and other items.
The Kuhn library's noted photography collection, containing more than 1 million photos and slides, plus books and apparatus depicting the history of that art form over the past half-century, is showcased in the new structure.
A renovated library gallery has been enclosed, with a new lighting system and expanded space. It will exhibit a visual history of women photographers at the grand opening "MindFest" cultural events held today and tomorrow to celebrate the library's new look.
UMBC's valuable collections of Maryland history, government and newspaper archives, and microbiology will also be more accessible with the tower addition.
The tower doubles the library's shelf space, adding 131,000 square feet. Book stacks have been relocated to the center of the building, sitting areas have been moved near the windows to take advantage of natural lighting (and provide a panoramic campus view.) It's a building worth looking up, and looking up to.