The lighting is still bad. The humming is still there. But the reserves are gone. As of Summer Quarter 200a2, Harper Memorial Library officially initiated its first big change - moving all of the reserves to the Regenstein Library.
Moving the reserves was just the first step in the administration's plans for Harper Library, which will most likely change after the new Graduate School of Business (GSB) building opens in autumn 2004.
The GSB currently occupies the Stuart and Rosenwald buildings near Harper Library. Many graduate students use the North Reading Room along with undergraduates. There is even a Ph.D. lounge hidden behind a wall that most undergraduates know nothing about.
Once the new building on 58th Street and Woodlawn Avenue is complete, however, Stuart and Rosenwald will be home to the College Admissions office and several arts and humanities classes, and the graduate population at Harper is expected to drop.
"When the [new] GSB opens, it may take a while for everyone to make their way over there," said Jim Vaughan, the assistant director of access and facilities services for the Regenstein Library. "What becomes of the [old] GSB will result in a lot of movement."
Director of library Martin Runkle and dean of the College John Boyer wanted to devise a plan for the future of Harper Library, so a brainstorming team of administrators, librarians and technicians was formed to develop new ideas for the library.
"Given the fact that 2004 is not far away and given the fact that the GSB won't be using the space [at Harper], we need to know how to use that space for the College," Vaughan said.
According to Vaughan, Boyer asked the team to "think strategically about Harper to programmatically use it to enrich the lives of students."
To streamline the process of figuring out what may or may not be helpful, the team desired as much input from the student body as possible. Mass e-mails were sent inviting students to share their opinions. Discussions are still being held at Maroon Key Society meetings and among faculty.
The library cut costs by merging both reserves into the Regenstein Library, but the move has also cut down on traffic at Harper. Many undergraduate students visit Harper only for the Common Core tutors, USITE, or the occasional nap on the oversized chairs.
"The only time I ever stopped by the Harper circulation desk was to check out reserves. I rarely ever borrow books from Harper," said Mabel Ning, a third-year in the College. "I usually just go there for the tutors or USITE, and that is not even that often."
The 65,000-volume collection at Harper Library is shelved for general interest reading. Since 1997, the number of non-reserve books checked out at Harper has dropped from 13,000 to 8,000. Because of increased usage of electronic resources, book circulation has dropped throughout the entire library system, but Harper's has fallen most drastically.
Faculty members have expressed their concern for the future of this historic landmark. They hope to revitalize Harper Library, especially the North Reading Room, to its original state. What is now a maze of cubicles for tutors used to be a grand space full of elaborate wooden tables and reading lamps.
"There was a feeling that Harper's North Reading Room has been made unattractive with boxy study spaces," Vaughan said. "There's no longer that sense of awe when you first walk in."
The North Reading Room may end up being the center for academic resources. There is discussion about moving USITE to the room, as well as turning the space into a study hall equipped with tutors and like-minded services.
"I can't imagine Harper without USITE or the tutors," said Bill Michel, deputy dean of students in the University. "They will stay. We are hoping for Harper to enhance academic support."
As for the main room, circulation area, and the west wing, the College aims to open the spaces up and make them more attractive. The renovation process involves tweaking the infrastructure to allow for air conditioning during the summers, installing more electrical outlets for laptop users, improving the lighting and eliminating the constant hum that has become a defining characteristic of Harper Library.
Opening another entrance to Harper is also on the table for debate. The door just outside of USITE that is usually locked and marked for emergency use could provide a quicker alternative to students who simply want to check e-mail or print a document.
None of the plans are set in stone. Vaughan emphasized that now is the time for students to voice their opinions and share their visions for a new and improved Harper Library. He encouraged students to visit the "Campus Plan and Construction" forum online, found under "Administration" at http://www.uchicago.edu/forum, to read about what is happening to the campus. As of yet there are no discussion boards regarding Harper Library, but students are welcome to start one.