NU anticipates years of library improvements

Nathalie Tadena

Students accustomed to detours, orange traffic cones and cranes may see construction equipment at NU’s libraries for years to come. Even as current work continues, a firm has begun a six-month-long master plan study of possible renovations for NU’s libraries that could take place over the next 20 years.

The construction initiatives going on now are part of the Life Safety Project, a series of renovations that began in Fall Quarter 2007 and aim to bring the library up to building compliance codes, improve handicapped accessibility and update the facility’s general safety.

“The construction allows any user access to the building and also adds more of an insurance of their safety in case of an emergency,” said John Blosser, head of the Library Department.

Since construction began, the library has installed new exit signs and built exterior concrete pathways that will be lit at night. There are also plans to improve emergency lighting, widen exit paths and install new handles on exit doors.

To accommodate handicapped students, a new elevator will be installed by the end of May to provide an accessible wheelchair entrance in the north side of the library to replace an outdated lift. Other future plans include relocating the shelves in the library’s towers to widen the pathways between stacks of books. “Refuge areas,” where students who cannot maneuver quickly down stairs can wait for emergency rescuers in the event of an evacuation, will also be built.

Construction stops during reading and finals weeks each quarter to accommodate students studying for exams. Throughout the quarter, posted signs in the library inform students of noise levels of that day’s construction, Blosser said.

“We realize it can be an inconvenience but it is for a good cause to upgrade the building,” he said.

Students do not usually complain about the ongoing construction, said Weinberg freshman Lauren Puetz, who works in the library.

“It’s good that they are finally making the library handicapped accessible,” she said. “It was rather ridiculous the way the timing was set up, but we have earplugs for students when it gets a little noisy.”

While the current construction will be completed by 2009, the university provost and Facilities Management have started to review possible long-term changes to all of NU’s libraries.

“The library has pretty much run out of space,” said Sarah Pritchard, Charles Deering McCormick university librarian. The main library’s book stacks are 90 percent full, and storage area under Kresge Hall is very crowded, leaving “no flexibility” for shifting or relocating materials, she said.

The university hired the architectural firm RMJM Hillier in March to lead a comprehensive six-month study of the needs and services of NU’s libraries. The firm will examine library facilities and consult NU faculty and staff members to offer recommendations on library services, improvements and strategies for the university to implement within the next 20 years. Next week, the firm will randomly e-mail 1,200 students and 1,200 staff members a survey that will examine frequently used materials and library spaces and the patterns of library use by different academic departments and majors.

The study is a “venturesome” project that will examine all of the libraries and branch libraries on NU’s two campuses, Pritchard said.

“We want to learn through this survey how we serve different categories of people and what expectations they have for service and space,” she said.

Even though there has been an increase in the accessibility of electronic sources, Pritchard said there is still a high demand for in-person services.

After the study is completed, the university will discuss which recommendations to follow.

“The study will help us chart a course and plan out for the next 20 years,” Pritchard said. “We are not just talking about space, it will help us talk about the future of the services we can provide as the library continues to grow.”

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