January 25, 2005

Additional Reg stacks may be built, replacing popular campus tennis courts

The Joseph Regenstein Library, a 1970s campus relic, will soon be undergoing a facelift, as the University is currently working on plans to expand the bulging behemoth by 2008.

Provost Richard Saller included the Regenstein expansion in the University's list of proposed construction projects at a Hyde Park community panel two weeks ago, but wrote in an e-mail that the University does "not yet have details of the construction," and could not elaborate further on the project.

Although the library is in dire need of an expansion, Deputy Provost Martha Roth emphasized that the project "is not yet a done deal."

"The provost and president still need to present this proposal to a variety of committees, and then to the board of trustees," Roth said. "If the board of trustees approves, they will appoint an architectural selection."

The University's Capital Projects Committee will also need to ratify the decision to expand the building before the project can proceed, Library Director Judith Nadler said in an e-mail.

"We are hoping that a Shelving Facility addition to the Regenstein will open in late 2008 or early 2009," Nadler said. "Our understanding is that the Provost and Chief Financial Officer plan to bring the proposal to the Board of Trustees at their April meeting."

Despite the apparent uncertainty, recent retiree Martin Runkle, former Regenstein director, helped organize a taskforce in recent years, which included the architectural firm Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbott, to investigate the possibility of expansion, Roth said.

"The key element in the decision making process is how many years out we must plan for," Roth said. "We need to know how good our crystal ball is, how the ways people do research with online research and publishing will change, and how we can add a facility that will take us through another generation."

She said she estimates that an expansion allowing for 2.5 million additional volumes will suffice to account for the thousands of yearly library acquisitions for the next 20 to 25 years, but acknowledged that the shortage of shelving units is becoming a problem.

"The library has run out of space," Roth said. "The Regenstein currently holds 3.5 million volumes and 2.5 million more volumes are located at other spots on campus."

Roth said that the University considered constructing an off-campus holding location, from which library patrons could order and receive books on a daily basis, but that University officials feared a decline in academic integrity due to the potentially lengthy delivery times.

"All of our peer institutions have their volumes off campus," Roth said. "Because we are the University of Chicago, it is of highest concern that scholarship and our academic mission take priority. An off-campus holding area is therefore not going to fly."

Roth said that various faculty and library committees expressed the significance that library patrons have the privilege of staying on campus to do their research.

She said that when construction commences—the date remains unclear—the site will consume a good portion of the corner of Ellis and 57th Street, knocking out the existing tennis courts. While this has yet to produce an uproar among students, men's tennis team captain Jacob Reckess expressed his reservations about the demolition of the tennis courts.

"I've used the courts in the off-season a bunch of times, and I've seen a bunch of students hitting on them, though to be honest, the people I see using them the most seem to be either grad students or locals," Reckess said. "At first, you would think that there are too many courts around the south side of Chicago. But on a nice day every summer, spring or fall, they're all full."

He added that although students come to the University for the academics and not to spend their time cavorting with rackets and yellow balls on asphalt, "there are a lot more people who play tennis here than you would expect. We're a highly concentrated tennis playing demographic, believe it or not."

Roth said that there is a "pretty good chance" that the University will reconstruct the tennis courts after the Regenstein expansion and that "not all of the space on the west side of the building will be taken up."

The necessity for more shelving space in the Regenstein will take precedence over tennis concerns; and as Nadler would argue, rightly so.

"As shelving space becomes more and more full, it is more and more difficult to keep books in order, which impacts the ability of readers to easily locate material," Nadler said. "Accordingly, when areas in the book stacks are extremely crowded, it is not uncommon to hear complaints from readers that it is difficult to find a needed book."