Penn State University Libraries accepted the largest financial gift in its history Thursday, receiving a joint donation of $2.5 million to support the establishment of a "Knowledge Commons."
Given jointly by Ann and Peter Tombros and John and Jeanette McWhirter, the gift will be essential in further developing the
$12 million project to create a collaborative study space, University Libraries Dean Nancy Eaton said. The Tombroses also gave $1.4 million to improve the libraries' collection of classic and Greek literature.
"We're looking to upgrade information technology to the next generation," Eaton said. "We're trying to integrate a lot of student services, so students can go to one place and have a lot of help."
Peter Tombros said the gift will hopefully allow students to better utilize the library and succeed in their educational pursuits by expanding its services and facilities.
"Over the years, we've grown very fond of the library and the library personnel, and they really do such a great job," he said. "There is still more work to do, and our hope is that this will help us get there."
Eaton said the construction of the Knowledge Commons on the first floor of central and west Pattee Library will be completed in phases, one of which already started with the movement of the Maps Library into Central Pattee.
The project will ultimately move the Foster Auditorium near the Paterno Library entrance to a more wheelchair-accessible and technologically equipped location. The current Foster Auditorium will be transformed into a reading room.
A small celebration was held Thursday in the Lending Services Lobby of the Pattee Library to recognize the historic gift. Penn State President Graham Spanier spoke and recognized the donors.
"It was a lot of fun," Jeanette McWhirter said about the celebration.
"The most fun was watching the students. They came over and talked to us and they were genuinely excited about it."
Jeanette McWhirter and Ann Tombros have been friends since they were children, both growing up in State College. McWhirter was a student employee at the library before she graduated in 1969, and both women became members of the Libraries Development Advisory Board in 2007 to help advance new library initiatives.
"Growing up here, I lived at the university," McWhirter said. "We've been really good friends in our adult lives and that's where this came about. We've seen this whole idea develop, and I think it will be terrific."