University News

Hay Reading Room to get facelift

Staff Writer
Friday, April 22, 2011

In an effort to make library space more amenable to student needs, the John Hay Library Reading Room and University Archives will undergo a renovation, slated to begin in summer 2012, according to University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi. The planned changes, which are expected to  take about a year,  will restore the space to its original size and layout.

The room currently occupies less than one-third the space it did when it was first built in 1910. Though the space was originally 4,400 square feet, bookshelves installed in the 1930s divided the room. While the shelves were intended to create smaller study spaces within the room, the spaces were gradually taken over for storage and administrative use by the staff, Hemmasi said.

The Hay is the only University library open to the general public, but Alison Bundy, senior library associate specialist of special collections at the Hay, said the Reading Room currently only fits about 21 patrons. According to a brochure distributed by the library, the renovation will allow for more than 80.

With the renovations, the room will feel “traditional but up to date,” said Barbara Schulz, head of library facilities. The changes include the removal of the bookcases, the addition of ceiling lighting and an update to the electric infrastructure.

Hemmasi said many peer schools have “grand reading rooms” with a traditional feel to match the history of the institution. She said the Hay Reading Room has the potential to be a similar space, but over the years people have “junked it up.” The main goal of the project is to “return (the room) to life and living students, not posterity and historical memory,” Hemmasi said.

Hemmasi said the Hay has a different feeling than the larger buildings that house the Sciences and the Rockefeller libraries. She compared the Hay to Grand Central Terminal in its atmosphere, which triggers a “lofty feeling, like your thoughts can be bigger or something,” she said.

Daniel Gonon ’12 said he comes to the Hay about once a semester to access books only available there. He said he probably would not come to the Hay if he did not require books housed there. If the room were opened up to allow in more outside light and make it more inviting, he said he might use it as a general study space. As it is now, the room is not like the other campus libraries, where he feels comfortable “dwelling on other things,” he said.

Following the renovation, the library’s hours will be extended, though Hemmasi said she does not envision it operating on the same schedule as the Rock or the SciLi. The Hay is currently open until 6 p.m. on weeknights and closed on weekends.

 A number of exhibition cases will also be added in the center of the room to display the Hay’s many special collections. There are more than three million items in the collection — including the famous anatomy textbook “De humani corporis fabrica” by Andreas Vesalius and the first three pages of the original manuscript of George Orwell’s “1984” — but they are rarely seen by students.

The University also plans to use the renovated space for events, according to Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president. With the University Archives holding yearbooks and other nostalgic documents, it could be a great place for alumni gatherings, Hammasi said.

Money for the project, which is still in the planning stages, will come from an anonymous gift of approximately six million dollars. Renovating an older space like the Reading Room can be expensive, especially considering infrastructure costs such as rewiring the room, Hemmasi said.

The project has been Hemmasi’s brainchild since she came to interview at the University six years ago, she said. Spies said the renovation is part of a larger initiative in the Campaign for Academic Enrichment to revitalize “underutilized” spaces on campus.

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