The John Hay Library is set to undergo major renovations that will make the entire main reading room available to students as a study space.
The planned renovations come after the Corporation approved an anonymous $3 million gift for the project last week.
The renovations, which received a separate go-ahead from the Corporation, will establish a new area for special collections reading and expand exhibition space, said University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi.
A timetable for the renovations has not been finalized, but Hemmasi said she is hopeful they will begin this summer, adding that they will likely take at least a year to complete. The John Hay will be closed during at least part of the renovation period.
The University previously received an anonymous $6 million gift for John Hay renovations, The Herald reported in April 2011, but the project was still in development at the time. Hemmasi said plans to renovate the library have been a priority for her since she came to the University in 2005.
Currently, the main reading room is divided into three parts with only the center of the room open to the public, while the other two areas contain offices. After the renovations, all 4,400 square feet of the main reading room will be available to the public, Hemmasi said.
“It will be sort of this grand, inspiring place but also really just a great quiet space to study,” Hemmasi said.
Andy Moul, library associate specialist, told The Herald in October 2011 that opening up the space could jeopardize the security of the library’s rare book and manuscript collections. But special collections will be moved to the room that now houses the University archives, Hemmasi said. Moul said this move addresses his previous concerns about security. Many books have already been moved to a shelving facility in Cranston in preparation for the renovation, Hemmasi said.
Hemmasi said the main reading room’s atmosphere should be more relaxed because cameras will be installed. Librarians will no longer need to watch students read to ensure proper care of the books.
No computers will be installed in the main reading room, but some will be installed on the outside of the room, she said.
Opening up the main reading room will also allow the University to host larger events there, Hemmasi said.
Bill Monroe, senior scholarly resources librarian, who also expressed hesitation about the renovation project in October 2011, wrote in an email to The Herald that he thinks the planned renovations are “very positive.”
“I do think the plans are very positive, and the building will be much better after the renovation, though I think it’s going to be difficult for all of us to have the library closed for a year,” he wrote.
Moul said the renovations could cause confusion among staff members but added that such confusion is inevitable.
“When there’s a renovation going on, it puts everything topsy-turvy,” Moul said. “It’s like telling a bunch of moles they’ve got only half the same amount of tunnels to climb through, so you can imagine what happens — the panic that ensues. But it’s a process of change.”
The special collections reading room will no longer be restricted to those doing special collections reading, Hemmasi said.
Other renovations include installing sprinklers, improving the building’s security system and adding a student lounge area and more restrooms to the first floor.
The $3 million gift approved last week came at a crucial time in the project’s development, Hemmasi said.
“We thought that we had enough money, and then we realized that we didn’t actually have enough money for the whole project,” Hemmasi said. “Without this gift, the project might have gone bust.”
The reading room will be named after the anonymous $3 million donor, Hemmasi said, but the name has not yet been released.
The Library Advisory Council, which is composed of alums, supported the renovation plans and contributed financially to the project, Hemmasi said.
The University will contract with Selldorf Architects, located in New York City, for the project. Annabelle Selldorf, who will give a talk at the Marty and Perry Granoff Center for the Creative Arts in March, is the principal of Selldorf Architects and will lead the John Hay renovation.
After receiving proposals from a number of architectural firms, the University selected Selldorf, in part because of her previous work on Neue Gallerie New York, Hemmasi said.
“If you’ve been in there, you know it’s really beautiful,” she said. “And it’s also really tastefully done, so it’s not just sort of sugary, drippy, old-fashioned. But it has sort of an edge to it, sort of a modern and old mix. And that’s what I envisioned for the John Hay, too.”
Hemmasi said Selldorf understands that vision and was able to articulate it well.
“She convinced us by this sort of creative and insightful approach that she brought to the conversation,” Hemmasi said.
– With additional reporting by Eli Okun