Deering Library undergoes roof repair to prevent water damage


Esther Lim/The Daily Northwestern

Roof replacement construction at Deering Library started Oct. 31. It is projected to finish by the end of November.

William Tong, Reporter

After 90 years of housing Northwestern’s books, Deering Library is getting an upgrade.

The building has been under construction for roofing replacement since Oct. 31 and is expected to be completed by the end of November, according to Project Manager for Capital Programs Robert Carlton and Facilities Manager James Abbott. 

Contractors from Pine Roofing are replacing waterproofing membranes on Deering’s flat roof, which sits above the Architecture Reading Room; the Stacks, home to the Library’s special collections; and the passageways between Deering and Main Library, Abbott said. They are also replacing roofing on the mechanical penthouse of the flat roof. 

The degraded roofing has caused water damage to library materials, Clare Roccaforte, director of marketing and communications for NU Libraries, said. She said she isn’t sure when in Deering’s 90-year history the building roof started to leak, but the library has been dealing with water damage at least since she started working at NU more than 15 years ago. 

“Water is one of our biggest enemies,” she said. 

Heavy rainstorms this summer resulted in dozens of books in the special collections getting wet, according to John Dorr, interim director of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections and University Archives. Water leaked onto the pages of up to 25 books. While these texts are still usable, Dorr said the library is looking for replacements. 

Library staff use several strategies to address water damage, Dorr said. Sometimes, simply relocating materials or letting wet books dry does the trick. Other times, they need to use specific equipment to minimize impact. 

“Where we know areas might get water, we have moisture sensors,” Dorr said. “What we do is the simple process of putting plastic sheeting over the shelving areas closest to the roof.” 

Staffers also use water socks, long tubes filled with absorptive material, to siphon water away from shelving areas, Dorr said.

Roccaforte said other parts of the library, like the peaked roof above the Martin Reading Room, also underwent improvements over the summer to prevent water damage. 

The south end of the Martin Room, which was closed throughout Spring Quarter because of water damage in the ceiling, only reopened this school year because of those repairs. 

“It destabilized the plaster portions of the ceiling, (which) could fall down and damage people,” Dorr said.

Some students, like Weinberg freshman Eleanor Dempsey, weren’t aware of the construction nor the water damage that prompted it. 

But Dempsey, who frequently studies at Deering, said she has noticed sounds coming from the roof construction. 

“It’s a little frustrating sometimes because Deering is a quiet library, as opposed to some other ones where it wouldn’t have been so impactful,” she said. 

Carlton said although Deering, which was first completed in 1933, has undergone many roof repairs in the past, this is the first replacement of an original roof section. 

He said the new roofing should last about 30 years, giving library staff a break from the water damage. 

“(Tearing) off the entire thing down to the concrete slabs, then adding on three layers of material should alleviate those problems,” Dorr said. “It should take care of all the issues with leaks.” 

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