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Response to OSU's Library Renovation

Friday, July 18, 2008

Julie Hart, in her article Library Profiles: The Unwritten Rules of Library Construction, discusses her years spent consulting with library construction projects. While the article goes into deeper discussions about funding through bonds and other means, she makes a point of how libraries need to “come alive in the minds of the community.” As with anything that holds sentimental value, a library can conjure up great memories of the past and prevent a community from seeing the need to start over. While there are certainly great buildings, many libraries fall into a category of “demolish, and rebuild.”

Although I haven’t personally visited the OSU Thompson library, I am sure that this library does not fall into the category of “demolish, and rebuild.” The building has an extensive history with the university and, at nearly 100 years old, every effort should be made to protect the original structure. However, a great deal of change has come about in the last 100 years. This building has had a few extremely major renovations and/or additions. While these renovations were necessary for storage and other issues, the beauty of the building suffered. Hart compares library renovation to the human body in that “problems can be repaired, but they never quite go away.”

The need for a complete renovation, undoing the renovations of the past, was necessary. By taking the needs of users into consideration, changes can be made to make the building ADA compliant, technologically up to date, and more energy efficient with a modern infrastructure. And, without apologizing, the building will become more attractive and inviting. Guy Robertson’s article discusses the “integrated whole” of the library. This includes signage, staff workspace, shelving, and even bathrooms. Renovating does not necessarily mean creating larger workspaces, but more efficient workspaces with proper lighting, layout, and air conditioning. The finished library will not only provide quiet, private study rooms, it will also provide large areas with movable furniture to encourage working in groups.

The Las Vegas Clark County Library District is an excellent (and award winning!) district. However, little has been done to upgrade the larger libraries… and it shows. It really comes down to priorities. The citizens of Las Vegas do not fund libraries properly, and the massive growth forces the money to be spent on underserved areas of our valley. In January, the first new branch in 10 years will open. Centennial Hills Library will be a beautiful, state of the art addition to the district. For a little comparison, in those same 10 years, Las Vegas has probably built nearly 100 schools! A ratio of 1:100 can only mean large areas of underserved patrons.

Certainly one of the most controversial of all decisions made by OSU was the removal of 700,000 books from this library. In the past, I would have agreed with the crude comment in response to the Chronicle of Higher Education article. I now believe the director when he says, “I think we will see most libraries moving in this direction.” In our little Curriculum Materials Library, I would like to relocate a huge part of our collection. The items would still be accessible (as they are at OSU), we just wouldn’t have to work around them. It would leave us with more space for a more comfortable environment.

Hart, Julie C. "Library Profiles: The Unwritten Rules of Library Construction." Arkansas Libraries 61.4 (2004): 30-2.

Robertson, Guy. "Here's Looking at You, Kid: What Special Visitors Want when they Tour Your Library." Feliciter 52.5 (2006): 213-


Joanie said...

The removal of 700,000 books does seem like a lot at first, but the trend does seem to be toward more electronics and less books. It sounds like the director and building team recognize that fact and are attempting to make the renovation respond to their users. Keeping the books in off-site storage is one solution. This situation seems to be repeated in many renovations. I appreciate that you have included citations to several articles in your post.

Canadian Dave said...

This is quite an extensive assessment! I enjoyed your comparisons with other divisions, including the Las Vegas district. I wonder how they decided which books to remove. I think for removal that extensive, they should utilize off-site storage or work with other libraries so that some items may be preserved. There's several items I've only found at 1 or 2 libraries since 'no one reads them', but if no one had them, no one would ever have the chance of ever discovering them (such as some old Victorian-era writers).

M-H-T said...

The Chronicle article you mentioned says "The skin on the stack tower has been torn off and will be replaced with glass, allowing people to see the scores of books on the shelves." I guess that might be okay in the temperate environment of Ohio, but in the brutal sunlight of Las Vegas, that idea would surely damage the books! UNLV's Lied Library stacks are only exposed to sunlight on the north side (gentle light) and a little bit on the east. And even so, the stacks are set back from the windows quite a bit.