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New technology and overflowing stacks have pushed the University's 28-year-old Regenstein Library to rethink the organization of its collections and the delivery of public service.

This summer, work began on the first major renovation of the University's Joseph Regenstein Library since it opened in September 1970. With 3.8 million books, hundreds of thousands of manuscripts, and an influx of some 95,000 new volumes a year, Regenstein has, quite simply, run out of shelf space. Some new books now sit indefinitely in a third-floor holding area; others have been moved to the stacks of the College's William Rainey Harper Memorial Library. Now at more than 80 percent capacity, Regenstein, says University of Chicago Library Director Martin Runkle, AM'73, "was built for 25 years' growth space and it filled up right on schedule."

Ranked last year by the Washington-based Association of Research Libraries as the 11th-largest academic library in North America, the University Library maintains 6.2 million books, 7 million manuscripts and archival items, and 390,000 maps and aerial photographs throughout Regenstein, Harper, the D'Angelo Law Library, the Social Service Administration Library, and four science libraries. Regenstein, the largest of the campus libraries, houses the University's general collections in the humanities, social sciences, and business. During the planned renovation, every one of its nearly 4 million books is expected to be moved-whether shifting position on a shelf or being carted to a new floor.

Such organized upheaval is a fact of life these days at almost all of the nation's academic libraries, says Julia Blixrud, a senior program officer at the ARL. A recent survey of the association's 121 members confirms that an increasing number are putting more dollars into electronic resources. At the same time, notes Blixrud, their growing paper collections are requiring them to consider other costly steps, such as building remote storage facilities, adding to existing facilities, or installing special compact shelves.

In one of the more creative solutions, the University of Minnesota is mining two large limestone caverns along the Mississippi River's banks to store little-used archival items. Three years ago Yale began a $35-million renovation of its central library, while Berkeley has pledged to invest an additional $5.5 million over the next three years in its university library.

"Research libraries have struggled with their space and facilities for many years," says Blixrud. "New technology is now pushing them to do even more."

The U of C library system began to formally address its own growing pains in 1987, seven years after Runkle took the helm. Some 51 staff members joined Runkle in assessing the system's future needs. In an August 1990 report titled Goals for the Year 2000, they called for improved efficiency, electronic access, and physical space. In late 1991, the Joseph Regenstein Foundation awarded a five-year, $2.61-million grant to support the initial phase of what has officially been named the Regenstein Reconfiguration Project.

The library retained the New Jersey- based Stillwater Consulting Group in February 1995 to analyze the use of campus library services and space, with a particular focus on Regenstein. The Stillwater report-based on observations and a survey of all full-time faculty, plus a sampling of graduate and undergraduate students-found that though library patrons are generally pleased with the collections and services, they have different needs and expectations. While undergraduates tend to view Regenstein as both a study and social center, the report says, graduate students and faculty primarily use it to conduct intensive research. Concluded Stillwater, "The challenge for library policymakers is to accommodate the disparate use patterns of undergraduate students and researchers within a single facility."

Most surprisingly, says Runkle, the consultants found that, at any given time, no more than 19 percent of Regenstein's available seats are filled. Skeptical, the library staff conducted its own occupancy study and got the same results. "You would say it was 80 percent full if you walked around at the end of the quarter," shrugs Runkle. "I didn't realize the present seating arrangement didn't use the space efficiently. If there are two people at a table designed for more and they don't know each other, then it's full." Specific patron concerns raised in the survey included overcrowded computer workstations, missing items from the stacks and online catalog, poor copier maintenance and availability, and circulation services that closed too early. Though Runkle chalks up some of these complaints to factors beyond the library's control, he used the input to immediately change copier vendors, extend circulation hours, and begin hashing out details for an overall redesign with the University's facilities department, a faculty advisory committee, and consultants from the Boston-based architectural firm Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, which is also advising Yale on its renovation project.

In April 1996, Runkle presented the resulting four-phase, conceptual plan to the University's space planning and capital budget committee. Work begun this June on the plan's first, $14-million phase will alter significantly the campus research hub's main-floor environs and the organization of its collections, with a focus on giving the public better service and the books more room.

At the end of the yearlong project, during which the library plans to be fully functional and maintain regular building hours, project manager Thomas Dorst says the most noticeable change will be a renovated first floor. The library has hired the Chicago architectural firm of Ross Barney + Jankowski to carry out the redesign. As firm principal Jim Jankowski tells students, "This won't be your dad's library any more."

The blueprints call for the building's façade to remain the same but for the three sets of front doors to lose their jail-like bars and open onto a softly lit vestibule. Patrons will enter and exit the library through turnstiles in the middle of a row of alternating wood panels and glass panes. The present entryway's row of inner doors and lounge areas will be removed to make room for the more spacious redesign and the relocation of several public-service departments. The entryway floor will be a similar stone color but the vivid, orange-gold carpet will be replaced by a more neutral shade. New lighting throughout the rest of the main floor will be used to better effect, spotlighting work areas and less harshly illuminating others. Promises Runkle, "It will look really smashing."

Form will follow function with respect to the public-service departments of circulation, reserve, and interlibrary loan. Currently disjointed, they will be consolidated in a central post near the entrance. The library-privileges department will also move near the entrance, a more logical place to help patrons who need library IDs. Along the east side of the first floor, the reference area and the offices for the Franke Institute for the Humanities will stay put, while some office space now used for general purposes will be dedicated to the public-service staff.

In perhaps the most telling sign of a new era, the card catalog will still be accessible but will move to a far corner, ceding its central location to the online databases. In fact, the library filed the last card in the card catalog in 1989. It aims to have entered all of its titles into its online databases by 2000. Each month, another 50,000 of the remaining 1.2 million titles in the card catalog are shipped to an Ohio vendor for electronic transfer. Notes Runkle, "We will keep the card catalog around for psychological reasons if nothing else."

To give the books some breathing room-at least for the next decade-the library is gutting Level B, two floors down from the main level, and installing compact shelves across its more than 35,000 square feet, now used for shelving, office space, and the map collection, which will move to the third floor. Compact shelves, like those in the U of C's John Crerar Library, look much like a row of books standing spine to spine, providing double the capacity of standard shelves by eliminating aisle space. An aisle opens alongside a compact shelf when a button on its spine is pressed, electrically shifting its neighbors to the side. (An infrared sensor prevents the Edgar Allan Poe-like crushing of someone in an aisle.)

The Level B compact shelves will provide space for 1.4 million volumes from Regenstein's general collections. Additional compact shelves installed on Level A, just below the main floor, will consolidate the special collections, with space for 540,000 volumes.

The decision to install compact shelves rather than build a more expensive addition or a less convenient remote-storage facility still leaves Regenstein facing another big question: What books will occupy which shelves? Regenstein's collections have traditionally been shelved according to subject matter and discipline. But, as Runkle explains, moving almost 30 percent of the collections to the compact shelves will free up so much space on the upper floors that a rethinking of how the stacks are used is unavoidable. Among the options the Regenstein staff has presented to its faculty advisory board are shelving the books alphabetically according to their Library of Congress classification, moving all bound journals to the compact shelves, or filling the compact shelves with smaller, less used collections. The location issue, explains anthropology professor Michael Silverstein, now in his second year as chair of the Board of the Library, goes to the heart of how the faculty conducts its work.

"The building becomes a research tool geared to helping one do one's work properly," he says, noting that a clear preference has not yet emerged among the faculty. "Only within a community like this can this kind of issue have this kind of sensitivity and importance."

Besides wrestling with the shelving question and other phase-one implementation concerns, Runkle is lobbying for University approval of the plan's second phase, intended to complete the transformation of the first floor into a public-service center. In this phase, with an expected price tag of between $4 million and $10 million and a proposed start date in the summer of 2000, the business & economics reading room on Level A, the microfilm files, and current periodicals-now scattered throughout the stacks-would move to the first floor. Exhibit space for the special collections would be made more flexible to accommodate shows of different sizes and with different presentation needs, and a room for special events would be created.

In its final third and fourth phases, the plan envisions removing the reference desks and service stations from floors two and four and regrouping the bibliographers and support staff on the third floor. Additionally, a third-floor media center would bring together the library's video, CD, and other sound recordings collections. And, finally, the group-study rooms, furniture, carpets, and décor of all the upper floors would be updated and arranged to maximize use by small groups and solo scholars.

At this point, Runkle is optimistic that both phases one and two can be completed on schedule. Beyond the year 2001, plans may shift in light of other ambitious campus improvement plans slated for the next decade. Still, the library should continue to receive generous consideration. As Silverstein notes: "The phases being contemplated for a more contemporary use of the building, and further thought about the transformation of the library from all paper to a mix of paper and electronic formats-to even a principally electronic and multimedia repository and research tool-are extremely important if the University is going to continue to support an absolutely cutting-edge research and teaching institution."

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