Started in a small storefront in the Stanford Shopping Center, the library’s main branch now is housed in the Hoover Pavilion, a landmark Art Deco building at the corner of Quarry and Palo roads that was once Palo Alto Hospital.
September 11, 2015 - By Ruth Schechter
When her son was diagnosed with a serious kidney and urinary tract defect, Cathy Draper struggled to find information about his condition. “At that time it was very difficult to get the information we needed — not only to explain the defect, but to help us in making treatment decisions,” she said. “I did not have a place to go for scientifically based health information.”
That changed just a few years later, when she donated a kidney for her son’s transplant and helped a family member who had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“By that time I had heard about the Stanford Health Library,” said Draper, a dental hygienist who has been a volunteer at the library for the past 20 years. “It was an invaluable resource while I researched both of the medical conditions I was dealing with. Patients are often overwhelmed with difficult choices or complex diagnoses. I know only too well the need for trustworthy resources so that people can better understand their condition and treatment.”
The Stanford Health Library, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is a free community resource for medical and health information. Started in a small storefront in the Stanford Shopping Center, the library’s main branch now is housed in the Hoover Pavilion, a landmark Art Deco building, at the corner of Quarry and Palo roads, that was once Palo Alto Hospital. The building currently houses the Stanford Neuroscience Center and many of Stanford’s primary care clinics.
“Our move here was a confluence of two major changes,” said library director Nora Cain, who oversees satellite branches in the Stanford Cancer Center, Stanford Hospital, East Palo Alto and the new Stanford Cancer Center South Bay. “Our building in the shopping center was being torn down, and the Hoover Pavilion was being restored. We were the ideal entity to respect that space and to accommodate the public.”
The 2,244-square-foot library, located in what was the main lobby of the former hospital, boasts 14-foot ceilings, fluted columns and expansive windows that had been hidden behind drywall. Its stairway entrance is of high-quality terrazzo, a polished composite handmade by mixing stone particles into concrete.
Originally, the first floor of the building held the emergency room, kitchen, labs, morgue and locker rooms for staff. Stairs led to a formal front door on the second floor, where visitors could wait in a reception area before being allowed in to visit patients. Over time the role of the building changed, as did public taste. Though the exterior did not change dramatically, a major renovation in the early 1960s removed most of the deco elements from the interior.
“There was not much to save inside,” said George Tingwald, MD, AIA, a credentialed architect, surgeon and director of medical planning for Stanford’s adult and children’s hospitals. “There were very few remnants of the original design. So much had been taken down and destroyed.”
The team of architects and planners had hoped to uncover the plaster murals and handmade metalwork shown in archival photos and architectural plans. But these features, as well as the original terrazzo floors, had been all but demolished in the 1960s redesign.
“Our goal was not to re-create the 1930s but to take elements of that style and develop it for continuity. We brought in materials to support the look without trying to replicate the original design,” Tingwald said. “While the outside was meticulously restored, we approached the lobby with a sense of adaptive reuse. The Health Library was the perfect fit.”
The designers eliminated several small rooms to open up the space and fabricated new columns to match the ones outside. They reconstructed the plaster ceiling to match the few original ceiling panels that remained and installed new overhead fixtures to complement the 85-year-old building’s style. They fitted the main room with comfortable chairs for reading, eight computer stations, built-in bookshelves, movable furniture and enough floor space to accommodate seating for an ongoing series of free community lectures by Stanford physicians.
“There are so many people in the community who were born in this building. They come up to me and thank me for bringing it back. The library brings people back into the building and makes it a real community resource again,” Tingwald said.
“We started in a nonclinical setting to provide evidence-based information people could trust,” Cain said. “We have access to libraries and databases not available to the general public and can customize packets to any level of expertise.”
The library staff respond to about 600 requests a month, with most inquiries revolving around cancer, aging, nutrition and chronic conditions like diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.
There are so many people in the community who were born in this building. They come up to me and thank me for bringing it back.
Requests come in by phone, by email and in person, with the library’s resources available to anyone in the community — not just patients and their families, Cain said. Librarians and volunteers also work closely with several Silicon Valley companies’ wellness programs.
“I’m amazed how different it is now,” said Laura Markman, who has been a library volunteer for 17 years. “I remember this spot as the hospital lobby, so it’s wonderful to me that it is still being used by the public. There are no space issues here, and it’s easy to sit right next to a patron to help them learn how to use the computer or navigate a website.”
The new location also allows the library team to work closely with Stanford’s coordinated care clinic, located on the building’s fourth floor, where clinicians treat patients with chronic conditions.
“It’s a model of integration, with clinical care that lets us develop aspects of our collection and offer self-management classes that address the needs of these patients,” Cain said. “We hope to expand that model to other specialties. A resource like this is especially important at a place like Stanford, where treatments may be groundbreaking.”
About Stanford Medicine
Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.