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

Dedication of Reconfiguration Project

The University of Chicago Library The University of Chicago Library Library Comments Search the University of Chicago Library Web The University of Chicago Library Web Sitemap Return to .

Remarks by Martin Runkle
Remarks by Geoffrey Stone
Tour Sites
Celebration Photos

Construction Photos
Commemorative Gift

Return to Reconfiguration Page


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 important goals.

Exhibition gallery
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 assistance.

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.

Reading Room
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.

Consultation Room
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 rooms.

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 area.

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 research.

To judge from how quickly patrons have taken to the new reference area, this phase of reconfiguration has proven very successful.