For those of you who have grown accustomed to hanging out in Baker Library – hold on, because things are about to change. Arguably the most revered landmark on the HBS campus, the library is about to undergo a major renovation that is expected to result in an impressively updated and flexible facility that will also preserve portions of the original architecture, including the front fa‡ade originally built in 1926.
While generations of HBS students have come to love the reading room and the quiet oasis it provides, the library as it exists today provides limited flexibility in the face of changing student and technology needs.
The current stacks, for example, are not wheelchair accessible and, given that they are actually part of the building infrastructure, can not be moved or adjusted. The workstations and most study areas are without data and power access, not to mention the much discussed lack of air conditioning.
The library renovation, part of a ten year campaign by the school to renovate and build several new buildings, should last approximately two years and will likely impact a large percentage of our community. Over the last two years however, the library staff has put significant effort into planning and anticipating the impact and needs of the HBS community, during this transition and beyond. The Harbus recently had the opportunity to sit down with Elizabeth Bibby, Director of the Business Information Services Center, and Pat Johnson, Director of Administrative and Technical Services at Baker Library, who described some of the preparation and care invested in this project.
The renovated Baker library, designed by the firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects who also designed The Spangler Center, will not be unveiled until the class of 2005 arrives for matriculation. What they should expect to find is a highly modernized facility with vastly improved study areas and more accessible services that will also preserve the historical reading room, the lobby, and front fa‡ade in its original state. A central stair hall will be constructed to bring natural light into the center of the structure and lead visitors directly to the reading room from the lobby.
The reading room itself will be updated with improved lighting, power, and data access for all workstations and different styles of work tables positioned throughout the reading room and accompanied by ergonomic chairs. In addition, there will be a new quiet study room in the basement of the building, also with the updated power and data services.
The new library will also have entirely updated stack facilities. While the current stacks are open to the HBS community, the new stacks are designed to be far more accessible and inviting, and will be wheelchair accessible. The stacks themselves will be upgraded to what is known as “compact shelving” which allows rows of shelves to stack up against each other with the flexibility of moving a shelf for access when necessary.
This results in a larger amount of storage capability in the library and allows a visitor to access an aisle when needed.
The renovation will also result in the new library being extended eight feet on the south side and will incorporate a new media oriented space dubbed “The Exchange” which will house several self-service Bloomberg workstations and a large screen feeding up-to-the-minute financial news and information. New offices for the faculty will also be situated along the perimeter of the addition. Perhaps most importantly, the new library will be designed to accommodate the continuing changing needs of students and future technology innovations to come. “Because the building was built seventy-five years ago, introducing new technology into the library has been a major challenge,” explained Johnson, “With this upcoming renovation, we are designing the library space to be as flexible as possible so that we don’t lock ourselves into one way of doing something for the next seventy-five years.”
During the interim two years, the reading room collections and the Business Information Service Center will be housed in the first floor of Kresge, between the executive education department in the basement and the HBS Faculty club on the second floor. While they acknowledged that these temporary facilities will be more cramped than we might be used to, they also pointed out that every workstation in Kresge will be equipped with power and data access and that there will only be four or five fewer workstations than what is currently available in Baker. In addition, they were happy to report that the Kresge facility will be air conditioned.
The move itself is scheduled to begin immediately following this year’s commencement on June 9th, 2003 and will extend until June 23rd, 2003.
The library staff plans to both move and set up the interim facilities within this two week period, a no doubt daunting task that not many of us would dare undertake. Despite the physical space being closed during the move, students and faculty will have uninterrupted access to the library’s electronic resources and will continue to enjoy the reciprocal privileges at the libraries on the rest of the Harvard campus.
Although significant planning has gone into preparing for the interim period, Bibby and Johnson recognized that there will be some inconveniences endured by all until the new library joins us. The much-used tunnels directly below Baker library, for example, will be partially closed throughout the two year period, due to engineering concerns and the relatively obvious fact that such a project must be conducted in a safe manner. Sections of the tunnels, however, should come back online periodically throughout the two year renovation and more details can be found about the tunnel interruption and on the renovation website at
//intranet.hbs.edu/dept/operations/BLAC/index.html. Bibby and Johnson also expect there to be fences set up around the library so that construction remains undisturbed and physically separated from the day-to-day life of the HBS community. Finally, given that many students rely on the printing facilities in Baker library, it’s worth noting that the IT computer lab in Shad is expected to close this coming year, and that additional printing facilities are planned to be set up in Spangler, in addition to what will already be available in Kresge, to help ease the transition.
Reflecting on the process, Bibby and Johnson both expressed excitement for what the future library will offer the HBS community. Johnson explained that the library staff “…takes their commitment to provide top level service to the students and faculty very seriously, and we are thrilled about having an updated and modernized facility to help make it easier to serve the community. The extensive planning process we have gone through to prepare and build the new library has only reinforced this.” Bibby also commented that the entire library staff, comprised of approximately seventy-five people, are “really looking forward to putting our best foot forward. One day we will take these wonderful new facilities for granted and the days of apologizing for the lack of air conditioning will hopefully be long over.”
So perhaps take the opportunity before the end of the semester to visit Baker library in its current condition one more time before the ground is broken. A witness to the changing demographics of decades of alum and where formal HBS dances were once held, the library has preserved and protected the school’s history and architectural legacy for the last three quarters of a century. Lucky for us however, come 2005 the front fa‡ade will remain and our favorite reading room will be back, albeit this time wired and equipped to manage the ever changing information and technical needs of the 21st century and beyond.