Library considers renovations
Sara Felsenstein | Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Fifty years ago, in 1962 , the cornerstone of the Hesburgh Library was laid.
When the towering, 14-story structure opened in 1963, it was the largest college library in the world and a forward-looking model for research and study.
But Diane Parr Walker, Edward H. Arnold university librarian, said the library is now in a transition stage. Stacks are overflowing. Upper floors lack proper study space. Changes to services and space allocation, she said, are crucial for the library to fulfill its 21st century needs.
“A 19th century library really was about books, much of the 20th century was about that as well, but a 21st century library is going to be about the mix of digital and physical formats, [about having] a lot of services and creating spaces that foster and encourage intellectual activity using both digital and physical collections,” she said.
Walker, who began her position as university librarian in July, served as deputy university librarian at the University of Virginia before coming to Notre Dame.
She spent the past few months getting to know campus and listening to the various concerns of faculty and students. Walker said her vision for the library is threefold: to increase physical and digital collections, expand expertise services and create more comfortable and inspiring study spaces.
“We have no intention of getting rid of the books,” Walker said.
A few projects, including a library cafÃ© and renovation of the first floor current periodicals area, are now in the planning stages. But the library lacks funding to launch a full-scale renovation.
“The University has a policy of not building or renovating until most of the money is in hand,” Walker said.
The library announced plans for Phase Two of the renovation in the spring of 2009, and construction on the first and second floors was targeted to begin in the summer of 2011.
Phase One, renovation of the lower level, was completed in 2002.
“The planning for that renovation of the first two floors of the Hesburgh Library really got going just about the time the economy collapsed,” she said. “And so while we had donors pledging funds, in many cases they haven’t been able yet to make good on those pledges.”
Faculty and staff started a petition in the summer of 2009, arguing the proposed Phase Two renovation would be insufficient and the entire library system, not just the two main floors, needed restructuring.
Those renovation plans were shelved in 2010, Walker said. She said the library is now “stepping back” to develop a program plan for the entire building, but will not begin speaking to architects again until more funding comes through.
Walker said several initiatives would be completed independently of the longer-term renovation.
In time for graduation, the current periodicals area on the first floor will be renovated with new study spaces and technologies from the Office of Information Technologies (OIT). The room will have new carpeting, beanbag chairs, study booths, soft seating,
reading tables, and if funding comes through, a video wall for group presentations.
“We’re going to see what we can do to enliven the space,” Walker said. “It’s a space that doesn’t seem to be particularly well-used, but it’s very, very visible.”
By next fall, the library will have new listening and viewing equipment in the music and media area on the second floor.
Walker said these spaces will be conducive both to individual and collaborative work.
“I’m also hoping that this will help with fundraising when we can show prospective donors the kinds of things that we envision for the building,” she said.
Walker discussed the possibility of a cafÃ©, which could open as early as the fall of 2013 in what is currently the vending room space in the library’s concourse.
“We’re talking with Food Services now about the possibility of converting the vending room space … into an actual cafÃ©, so they’re thinking that they’ll begin talking with franchises that might be interested,” Walker said. “This summer, Facilities [Operations] plans to renew the pavers on the terrace in front, so we’re also talking about what might be done to change the landscaping, allow for … some outside seating there, and a doorway [where] you could get out to the terrace from a cafÃ©.”
Library shelving is almost entirely full, Walker said, both in the main and branch libraries. She said she is speaking with the Office of the Provost to identify a space for remote shelving close to campus.
“We can deliver things that are there as we now deliver around the campus, so that we don’t have to use all of the floor space in the library for stacks,” she said.
For the future longer-term renovation, Walker said she imagines the first floor as a “hub of activity” and the second floor as more focused, housing print collections, group study rooms and expertise for music, media and art.
The upper floors, Walker said, could be imagined as “oases of contemplation” that serve the needs of book-based work but are not crowded with stacks.
She said the biggest challenge the library will face in becoming a 21st century library will be balancing competing needs of faculty and students.
“Students tell me that the most important thing about the libraries is space, faculty and graduate students tell me that the most important thing is collections and services. It will be important to strike the right balance,” she said.
Walker said she hopes smaller-scale projects the library is taking on now will encourage greater support of the renovation.
“I’m hoping that we can generate a lot of excitement around the idea that a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary would be to actually kick off a thorough renovation,” she said.