Sunday, June 05, 2011

New Reading Room at University of Chicago Library

  Last week I visited the University of Chicago Regenstein Library to see their new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library that opened May 16. It is actually a reading room, preservation work space and storage facility.

I like the fun bubble next to the main library. I heard some students have already tried to scale it. I remember a friend getting in trouble for scaling the clock tower at Cornell, but he was just compelled to try to climb things.

You get to the Mansueto Library Grand Reading Room through a glass tunnel that connects it from the Regenstein Library. Half of the bubble is devoted to the reading room with four long tables in the middle and tables for four all around the edges. This is a quiet study space. It was packed (I think it was the week before finals) and everybody was focused on their own work. Each seat had a light and power plug - most had brought their laptops.  My first thought was, doesn't it get hot in here, but they have tinted the glass to mitigate the sun's rays, and there is plenty of air conditioning coming from the silver columns, so it was quite cool; the fans were a bit loud and distracting. I spent over an hour working there and enjoyed it. The view was great! I often wish for a sliver of a view to the outside from my office, and here you can raise your eyes and look out over the campus or rest them on infinity.

The other half of the bubble is the preservation work area for conservation and digitization. Quite a high profile area for a department that is usually relegated to the basement. They must have been high on the priority list to get space, I wish them well. Maybe preservation and digitization activities will get a higher profile this way. The same question about all that sunlight came to mind - doesn't sunlight damage materials? But I am sure they have thought it out.

University of Chicago had not wanted to have an off site storage for less used library materials, so they built an underground storage facility right under the reading room.It has an automated retrieval system that gets people materials out of storage in 5 minutes to the circulation desk in the reading room. I briefly talked to a colleague at the library and she predicted that students and faculty are going to want that kind of service for the materials in the rest of the library.

Renderings and floor plan and more images of the library can be seen online. I am just fascinated at how people solve library space issues.