New Library website coming in mid-summer.   Learn more.


Phase 1
Celebrating the Reconfiguration

BACKGROUND The Joseph Regenstein Library opened in 1970 and fundamentally altered the model of library service at the University of Chicago. Prior to the construction of Regenstein, numerous small departmental libraries played an integral role in library service in conjunction with the concentration of collections of the Harper Memorial Library. After Regenstein opened, the departmental libraries were consolidated, first in the Humanities and Social Sciences and, with the construction of the John Crerar Library in 1984, in most of the Sciences. The measure of success of the Regenstein, over twenty-five years, is the regularity with which it is cited throughout the country as a model of a great research library.

Regenstein was intended to house all of the relevant collections in the Humanities and Social Sciences but sought to arrange them in a manner that retained the strength of the departmental libraries by associating materials that supported the specific research of Chicago scholars. The functional diagram of the building put faculty studies, generous reading rooms, library staff service points and open stacks, organized around the University's active scholarly disciplines, together on the various floors of the library. An open arrangement of over 2,300 reader seats in the reading rooms anticipated intensive use by the entire graduate and undergraduate population.

Regenstein was also to be the locus of library support services for the entire Library. These included administrative functions and services such as library privileges and the bulk of technical processing. The development and management of automated library services were designed into Regenstein, although the original plan could in no way anticipate the technological proliferation that has occurred since 1970.


As the Regenstein Library approached its twentieth anniversary, the University Library administration engaged in a comprehensive Library Planning Process (LPP) that culminated in the publication of Goals for the Year 2000. One product of this initiative was the development of the Regenstein Reconfiguration Project as a means of implementing some of the Goals.

  • Library Planning Process conducted- 1987-1990
  • Goals for the Year 2000 published- 1990
  • Regenstein Reconfiguration Project developed- 1990-1991
  • Regenstein Foundation grant awarded to support reconfiguration- 1992-1996
  • User Survey and Space Utilization Study (Stillwater Report) conducted- 1995
  • Provost's Reconfiguration Faculty Advisory Committee appointed- 1995
  • Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott conducts Architectural Study of the Regenstein Library- 1995-1996


A series of assumptions about the reconfiguration, as a whole, were developed to assist in determining the scope and content of various steps in the project.

  • The University requires a premiere research library for the Humanities and Social Sciences, with both strong collections and high quality user services.
  • Collections must be adequately housed and readily accessible.
    • Regenstein's stacks are functionally full.
    • Regenstein's print collections will experience significant net growth for the foreseeable future.
  • The Library must maintain its quality and relevance to faculty engaged in research and must enhance its role in undergraduate learning and graduate training.
    • The existing service program does not adequately meet the needs of the Library's primary user groups: faculty, graduate students and undergraduates.
    • The size of the student body will undergo change in the next five years.
    • Electronic resources are increasing in number and in importance in the research process.
    • The 16 distributed service points in Regenstein cannot be adequately staffed.
  • The Regenstein building needs renovation and renewal of its infrastructure, its interior finishes and its furnishings to meet current needs.
  • The University will assist the Library in providing and raising the funds necessary to accomplish the reconfiguration.


When it was determined that consulting architects should be employed to conduct a study and make recommendations on the scope of renovations and modifications needed in Regenstein, a more refined set of assumptions was developed as part of the architect selection process.

  • Regenstein reached its functional collection storage capacity in Februrary 1996.
  • Approximately 94,000 new volumes will be added to the Regenstein collection annually for at least the next decade.
  • Regenstein's 16 major service points cannot be effectively staffed nor can a consistent service program be implemented from so many service points.
  • The capacity to introduce and maintain a widely distributed network of information technology must replace the original concept of centralized computing for the building.
  • As the size of the undergraduate population grows, the need for study space must be balanced with the intensive research patterns of the graduate students and faculty.
  • Basic renovation to both infrastructure and public spaces is needed to ensure safety, comfort and optimum functionality.
  • Regenstein must remain open and functional throughout the reconfiguration.



  • To evaluate the library needs of the University community for the next 10-15 years.
  • To determine the capacity of the Regenstein Library to meet those needs.
  • To plan a functional and physical reconfiguration of the Regenstein Library to better utilize its capacity and adequately serve the University in the future.
  • To flexibly implement the elements of the reconfiguration in a manner that is in keeping with the resources available.


  • To provide a set of options for the adequate storage of collections in the Humanities and Social Sciences through the year 2012.
  • To provide conceptual design for the consolidation of library service points that will allow the Library to design a high quality and flexible service program.
  • To provide a conceptual design and space program that utilizes staff efficiently.
  • To provide a conceptual design that flexibly accommodates current electronic information resources and supports future technological advances.


SBRA, in consultation with the Library, developed a series of planning assumptions to guide the broad based planning process. They are as follows:

  • The plan must address the Library's needs for the next 10-15 years.
  • Collections will continue to grow at a rate of approximately 94,000 volumes per year for the foreseeable future.
  • The existing Regenstein facility will be functionally full in the year 1996. The Architectural Study will address alternatives for accommodating collections until the year 2012.
  • Project of Reconfiguration will be phased to maintain uninterrupted library services during the project.
  • The size of the Library staff is likely to decrease and the Reconfiguration must support the provision of service with the available staffing.
  • Undergraduate enrollment will grow in the next 10-15 years.
  • Regenstein will continue to serve the needs of undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and researchers.
  • Retrospective conversion will be part of the Reconfiguration Project.
  • Reconfiguration will effectively accommodate technology.


Following discussion of generation planning issues and completion of the program, SBRA developed a variety of planning alternatives for the reconfiguration of Regenstein. The alternatives covered both collection storage and programmatic service issues in various combinations. These ranged from constructing a substantial building addition that would maintain the existing diagram of collection storage and provide a broad spectrum of service alternatives to development of a remote storage facility and minimal renovations to the existing building. Over a period of two months, and several successive meetings, alternatives were reviewed and modified. While a full scale building addition would be the most desirable option its cost was seen as prohibitive. A final, comprehensive planning option was selected that allowed for collection growth within the existing building through installation of compact shelving and provided substantial flexibility in designing programs and services. Balancing cost considerations, functionality and flexibility yielded the preferred planning option described below.

The options, alternatives and final planning direction were presented, discussed and reviewed by:

  • Reconfiguration Steering Committee
  • Library Staff Advisory Committee
  • Library Management Council
  • Reconfiguration Faculty Advisory Committee


The proposed reorganization of the Regenstein Library is illustrated on the following plans. The plans indicate spatial relationships, departmental adjacencies and a hierarchy of services within the building as well as locations for future collection growth.

The following is a descripiton of proposed improvements for each Level.

  • Renovation of Level B and Installation of Compact Shelving: Project includes the relocation of the Building Services to Level A and the temporary relocation of Preservation, Systems and Map departments; relocation of the collections housed in the Level B stacks; removal of all existing conventional shelves; and installation of new mobile aisle compact shelving over the entire level. Installation of a security system in the portion of the stacks that will house Special Collections. Upgrade mechanical and electrical systems. Project will result in a stack level capable of storing approximately 1.3 million volumes.
  • Renovation of Level 1 Entrance Lobby, Reference & Information Services, Circulation, User Training Room, and Administration: Requires the permanent relocation of the Chicago Humanities Institute to another University location and retrospective conversion and removal of the card catalog. Project includes renovating CHI space for the relocation of Library Administration; redesign of the building entrance lobby; relocation of the Circulation department adjacent to the lobby are; temporary relocation of the Reference Department; renovation of the eastern half of Level 1 for a new Reference & Information Department and Public Computer Training Rooms; and final relocation for the Reference & Information department to the renovated space.
  • Renovation of Level A and remainder of Level 1: Project includes renovation of space and relocation of Business & Economics Reading Room to Level 1; renovation of Level A and relocation of Cataloging, Acquisitions, Serials, Interlibrary Loan, Preservation, Systems and Stack Maintenance departments; renovation of existing Special Collections staff space, staff lounge, and Ex Libris student canteen; renovation of the Special Collections on Level 1; creation of a consolidated Current Periodicals/Reserves/Microforms department and public function and meeting rooms on Level 1.
  • Renovation of Level 3: Project includes removal of the existing stair between levels 2 & 3 and replacement with a stair connecting Levels 2-4 (with an opening and skylight on Level 5);renovation of Level 3 service point; relocation of all bibliographers and associated support staff to Level 3; creation of a media center (with secured collection space); relocation of the map collection to secured collection space. Level 3 to include appropriate seminar and special purpose spaces.
  • Renovation of Levels 2 & 4: Project includes renovation of Reading Rooms to provide study/research space, accommodate specialized collections (Humanities-Level 4, Social Sciences-level 2), elimination of existing service points; and conversion of former staff spaces to stacks.
  • Renovation of Level 5: Project includes renovation and expansion of the East Asia Reading Room; removal of the barrier wall between East Asia and the other Area Studies; renovation of Area Studies Reading Room, service desks and staff work areas.
  • Construcion of Collection Storage Mezzanine in Level 5 Stacks: Project includes installation of a mezzanine book stack with stairs and book lift access in a portion of the Level 5 stacks. Project will result in additional storage capacity of approximately 118,000 volumes.

Back to TOP

Link to: The Stillwater Report