The need to shelve the Library's growing collections drove Phase
One of Regenstein's reconfiguration. The results are most
gratifying: Regenstein's capacity expanded about 30%, an increase
of 1.2-1.4 million volumes. This will allow the holdings to grow at
current rates for another decade.
Installing compact shelving proved formidable. The extra space
gained for book shelves by eliminating the customary aisles
separating them doubled the weight the floors must bear. Through
careful analysis and design, the reconfiguration team found that
about one-tenth of the space inside Regenstein could be fitted with
compact shelving, a total of about 60,000 square feet.
Preparing these areas required lots of effort, rebar, and
concrete. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of concrete rolled
from trucks at the loading dock throughout levels A and B to
prepare the floors. In total, workers poured 400 cubic yards of
concrete on A level to thicken its floor 14 inches and accommodate
the new shelving. Because the B level could bear the increased load
already, only a 2 inch top layer of new concrete was needed in
which to set the tracks on which the compact shelving moves. Given
the immensity of the B level, however, "only" 2 inches required
another 300 cubic yards of concrete.
One question people usually ask is what happens to the hapless
researcher standing between two shelves when someone tries to move
them. Fortunately, the system's design can handle this. Sensors in
the floor detect that someone is standing between two shelves and
prevents them from closing.
What happens if someone pushes a button and the shelves don't
move? Assuming they aren't refusing to crush someone and are
genuinely malfunctioning, a mechanical back-up system allows them
to be moved with a crank.
Phase One of Regenstein Reconfiguration brought change and
improvement to several areas of Special Collections, from the
public spaces on the first floor to the staff work areas and
collection storage on A-level. In particular, the project enhanced
the department's ability to provide excellent reader services and
insure safe, efficient storage and transport of our outstanding
collections. We are very glad to have been able to achieve these
The entrance to the department is now through the bank of elevators
to the south of the main staircase, creating a more defined and
enclosed gallery space. In the inner gallery, one of four alcoves
was transformed into a telecommunications closet to support crucial
upgrades in the Library's infrastructure, an important but
invisible aspect of the reconfiguration project. Bookcases from
this alcove were repositioned so that they can be used to exhibit
representative selections from the Library's archives and
manuscripts collections when construction is completed.
Reader services area
Changes immediately inside the department were designed to create a
much more welcoming and spacious entrance area, providing for
greatly improved access to staff and reference materials.
The new reference desk is lower, and the removal of the Lincoln
Room opened up space for a reference and consultation area. Two new
offices, one near the front desk and the other behind it, bring the
Reader Services Librarian and Associate Curator into close
proximity and ready interaction with researchers. The reference
collection has been rearranged so that frequently consulted
materials which often require staff interpretation, such as
archival finding aids, are closer to the front desk and offices.
Computer workstations in this area permit researchers to consult
print and electronic reference resources, and sources on the
Library's web page, together, with staff nearby for needed
The new front desk now has two staff members on duty at all
times, enhancing service and strengthening security. Two
workstations on the desk make it possible to provide information
assistance and circulate materials at the same time. Registration
and circulation have been streamlined and automated by integrating
them with the Library's Privileges Office procedures and the
Library's Horizon system.
Another relatively inconspicuous improvement is much-needed
expanded access to electrical outlets and data lines in the Special
Collections Reading Room. A majority of researchers now use laptops
in the Reading Room, for word processing and, increasingly, to
consult online sources in conjunction with materials from the
collections. Now the Reading Room has the capacity to accommodate
this growing need.
One unanticipated benefit of Reconfiguration was to bring
several items from the archival collections into public view.
William Rainey Harper's desk and chair, a Washington hand printing
press, and the original University of Chicago "Round Table," were
among the pieces we needed to relocate from storage areas during
construction. They were housed temporarily in the Reading Room, and
because researchers and visitors have reacted so positively to
seeing them, we have decided to keep them upstairs for now.
A new group study and consultation room was constructed across from
the Reading Room. The glass walls and central location will make it
a very useful space for small seminars and researchers needing to
consult materials together. This facility replaces the smaller
study room, entered from the Reading Room, which was removed to
accommodate one of the new staff offices.
Collection storage and delivery
Elevator: The old book-lift and stairwell were removed,
and they are being replaced by a full-size elevator and stairs
located beyond the Consultation Room. This location was determined
by the anticipated position of the department's reference area at
the conclusion of Phase 2. The elevator will enable us to transport
large and fragile materials far more efficiently and safely.
Staff work areas and collection storage: The new
elevator will travel within secured Special Collections space
between two floors, connecting the first floor with A-level. It
will open into the new staff work area. Immediately adjacent to the
staff space is a large, secured compact shelving area that
accommodates the rare book collections and processed
archives/manuscripts collections. In compact shelving, collections
of different sizes and formats are stored on three different sizes
of ranges. The compact shelving is completed and occupied; the
elevator and staff work areas will be finished in early winter.
Previously, Special Collections materials were stored on both A-
and B-levels. The consolidation of collection storage onto one
floor, adjacent to staff work areas, will provide for more
efficient operations and services.
Our new Privileges Office invites people to enter and use the
Library. Gone is the small, inconspicuous office we used for so
many years. In its place we now have one that is located
prominently at Regenstein's entrance, spacious, open and ready to
accommodate many users. This is where visitors come to register,
where members of the University community update their privileges
and rent the lockers scattered throughout Regenstein's reading
Having simplified entry to Regenstein, our new challenge is to
communicate to members of the University community, particularly
alumni and staff, that they are welcome to enter and use the entire
Library system. Many alumni are unaware that they have reference
privileges at the Library for life and may purchase borrowing
privileges for modest fees. We also welcome University staff
members to peruse our collections. For general and arcane
curiosities, research projects, University archives, investment
information, travel preparation and countless other needs, both
personal and professional, the Library remains a resource for all
the members of the University community and visiting scholars.
Our new circulation area improves our services in many ways. It
affords more efficiently organized work space for checking out
Library materials and, with the addition of a customer service
station, for handling patrons’ inquiries and problems.
Regenstein's patrons will also appreciate the more convenient
location of the book return. Relocating the circulation desk also
allowed us to consolidate related services and provide a single
focal point for the circulation of Library resources. Need to find
a volume on reserve for a particular course? It is available at the
circulation desk. Looking for Interlibrary Loan? Go to the
circulation desk. Kiosks nearby provide computer stations to
support these functions.
Reconfiguration provided the Reference Department with a wonderful
opportunity to reshape the delivery of fundamental reader services.
Perhaps the most obvious change is the relocation of the reference
desk to the visual center of the first floor. As patrons enter the
Library, they now see the reference desk straight ahead of them,
staffed with knowledgeable librarians ready to assist them. This
heightened visibility has nearly doubled the number of people
seeking help from our reference librarians.
Many other changes were implemented in the reading area of the
first floor. The card catalog was moved to the periphery of the
room, creating a brighter, open space with better sight lines. By
lowering the height of the shelves around the reference desk we
enhanced the feeling of spaciousness. New carpet and light fixtures
helped this as well and made the surroundings even more pleasant.
Although these alterations have heightened already the drama of the
lobby and reading areas, this area will feel even more expansive
when we complete the conversion of the paper card file to the
electronic catalog and move the paper catalog out of the reading
The changes involve functionality as well as visibility and
aesthetics. The items shelved in the reference area now run in a
single sequence from A-Z. This will make it easier for readers to
find the volumes housed in the reference area. The ubiquity of
computers in our new design reflects the demands of researchers and
accommodates their needs. At our new work stations people now have
room to spread out their papers and take notes, a much more
pleasant working environment than the crowded rows of machines we
used to have with their dangling forests of cords. Looking across
the reference area, one senses the energy and resolve researchers
bring to their work.
I should add how important it is to have access to computers in
the reference area. An enormous amount of consultation between
patrons and staff requires on-line researching, much of which is
done through the Library's web site. Though sometimes we seek
answers to specific questions, often our job is to teach patrons
how to navigate the web site to find and use the appropriate
resources available to them. Keeping up with the ever increasing
number of these electronic databases and search engines has become
a significant aspect of the reference librarian’s role. The
changes we have made then reflect the changing realities of
To judge from how quickly patrons have taken to the new
reference area, this phase of reconfiguration has proven very