Thursday, June 09, 2005
University of Chicago's Regenstein Library to Become Nation's Largest 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Regenstein Library thinks big - really big.The University of Chicago's Regenstein Library is poised to think big - really big. When its $42 million expansion is completed four years from now, it will become the largest research library under one roof in North Anerica.
...Regenstein's collection will total about 8 million volumes in one space. The total university collection will exceed 11 million.
U. of C. planners say the addition to Regenstein will allow the university to keep its options open. "First and foremost it gives us the ability to rethink the library in ways in which if we had to go offsite [to store books] we could not rethink," said Judith Nadler, director of the library. Faculty members involved with planning the new facility have stressed the need for a library that draws scholars away from computer terminals and back to the stacks. In fact, a faculty survey revealed that professors, while continuing to draw heavily on the holdings of Regenstein, were spending less time in the library.

"I think there is something deeply important about human face-to-face interaction," said Andrew Abbott, the Swift distinguished service professor in sociology. Scholars say preserving Regenstein's massive open stacks is another priority.

"The chance of seeing what the next volume is, or running your eyes idly over the spines, opening the pages and falling upon something is memorable, pleasurable, instructive and frequently decisive in the way you work," said Neil Harris, a U. of C. historian and member of the faculty committee involved in planning the new addition. The planned addition of 40,000 square feet to the library--opened in 1970 and designed by architect Walter Netsch--will not only allow the collection to grow, but it also will provide the library with updated preservation facilities, improved book-tracking technology and additional classroom space.

The cornerstone of the library's expansion will be a high-density, automated shelving facility that mainly will house print journals. The high-density storage system requires one-seventh the floor space of a conventional system and employs bar codes and bins to track and store volumes. Already in use at several libraries, the system allows books to be selected and delivered within five minutes.

The expansion also will enable the university to enlarge its digital collection. With the extra space gained from storing print periodicals, a portion of the current Regenstein building will be reconfigured into an "information commons" and include digital learning libraries as well as an Internet-savvy library staff. Scholars and library officials say the expansion of Regenstein can blend the best of the digital and print worlds. Harris, whose scholarly career predates the photocopier, says that a renovated Regenstein will remain the spiritual center of the university.

"This library is the heart of the campus. It's been the most important building put up in the last 50 years, so you approach it with some degree of reverence," said Harris. "You don't want to lose its significance." [read full article]
More: The Regenstein's current floorplans