University News

Remodeled John Hay Library opens to public

Changes to reading room and extended hours intend to make space more inviting

By
Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2014

After being closed for a year, the John Hay Library has reopened with new exhibit spaces and a revamped reading room. “It’s become a much more coherent and private space,” said University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi.

The John Hay Library reopened Sept. 2 after being closed for renovations during the 2013-14 academic year.

Several changes, including a complete overhaul of the main reading room, were made primarily to make the space more inviting for students, visitors and staff members, said University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi.

Hemmasi said the library did not previously seem welcoming to visitors, functioning more as an atmosphere for scholarly work. “It is true that the work being done in the library is important, but the space has to be decent, comfortable and functional for users,” she said.

One of the most significant changes — consistent with the renovation’s original plan — was alteration to the main reading room on the first floor. Previously divided into three sections, the room is now an open space for general reading that students can use as they want to.

“We think of it as quiet study, but it will be interesting to see how it will be used,” Hemmasi said.

The library also eliminated the process of checking in backpacks. Rachel Ossip ’15, who frequented the library prior to its closing, described the process of storing belongings in a separate room while working with library materials as “restrictive” and “laborious.”

Expanded exhibition space and new secure display cases in the reading room are intended to make the library’s collection more visible and appreciated by students and visitors, Hemmasi said. A student lounge has been added to the first floor, as has a small seminar room.

The University created another room specifically for special collections reading. Though the renovation’s original design entailed changing only the reading room, “we realized we can’t change the reading room without shifting the special collection someplace else,” Hemmasi said.

“It’s become a much more coherent and private space. It’s quiet and built for reading special collections,” she added.

In accordance with the changes made to the physical space, the library has extended its hours into the evening. The library is now open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Additional adjustments provide library staff with a more functional working environment. Previously, the first-floor space was used by both students and staff members, a condition that Hemmasi characterized as “a mix of two functions” that did not seem beneficial to either party. Now, staff members have moved to the third floor and have their own office space.

The library also boasts a new, advanced security system, and a sprinkler system has been added throughout the stacks, providing the library with better fire protection and increased control of humidity and temperature.

What was previously a courtyard on the north side of the library is now a second entrance to the building. This more convenient path into the building makes the library more accessible to those with physical disabilities, Hemmasi said.

The millions of volumes that were transported to an off-site shelving facility in Cranston during renovations will remain there, but students can request books online and have them delivered within 24 hours, Hemmasi said. Staff members also have access to the Cranston site, where they can process collections.

Hemmasi expressed hope that students and visitors will find the library more accessible and take advantage of the resources available to them.

Ossip said the library was difficult to navigate before the renovations, possibly discouraging some students from exploring it. “Having a study space that anyone could use is a major change,” she said, adding that it might help attract visitors.

Jessi Haddad ’16 called the renovations “impressive” and said she can see herself studying in the Hay often this semester.

Since the reopening of the library, Hemmasi has seen a steady increase in students and visitors entering each day.

“Yesterday, there was a couple of families visiting the campus and had high school students with them. And there was a Brown student guide,” she said. “I’ve never seen a Brown guide take a tour group to John Hay.”

  • Tom Bale ’63

    The John Hay is back to life! It looks, and sounds like Ms. Hemmasi and her staff got it right. For me, however, the old Hay was always in the back of my mind for years. There are certain places on campus that serve as a talisman in our lives on campus. The Hay was like that for me. When I finally learned to regularly study there with two close friends academics came alive for me. It was those heavy oak(?) tables catching the pool of light spreading from the brass reading lamps with green glass shades. It said to me ‘calm yourself down, shut out all the distractions, open up your mind to the wonders in the book lying in front of you’. I would look over at my two friends. That’s what they were doing. I could do that, too. One question: What ever happened to that huge tapestry on the wall that fascinated me, showing a woman begging her lover/knight not to leave?