Library Renovation at Ohio State U. Promises More Space, but Fewer Books

Ohio State library
A wall hiding the Ohio State U. library’s stacks is being replaced with glass. (Illustration courtesy of Gund Partnership)

Chicago — Campus planners and architects got a peek Tuesday at one of the biggest academic library-renovation projects in recent history. The main library at Ohio State University is undergoing a $108-million renovation and addition, designed by Gund Partnership. But according to Joseph Branin, the university’s director of libraries, selling the renovation to faculty members was difficult because the building will hold fewer books when finished.

The books had come to clutter the library. A grand reading room in an original part of the building had been cut up years ago to provide more shelf space. Social spaces, like a cafe, were too small to accommodate the number of students on campus. Private study spaces were more akin to cages than the sort of inviting spaces found in other libraries.

The library, a massive structure with a large stack tower at the center of the building, held 2.2 million books before the renovation began last year; when it re-opens in 2009, it will hold 1.5 million books. Some 700,000 will be sent to off-site storage.

There will be plenty of other changes as well. A Brutalist addition has already been torn down and will be replaced with a large, glassy study area with movable furniture. The reading room in the original portion of the building is being restored. A portion of the building will feature tiered, open levels. The skin on the stack tower has been torn off and will be replaced with glass, allowing people to see the scores of books on the shelves.

Youngmin Jahan, a Gund architect working on the project, said during the presentation that exposing the books would remind people of the central role books play in a library, even in a digital age.

Nevertheless, the library will have fewer books — and Mr. Branin said this was a major point of debate in the design of the library. “I can show you my scars over the issue,” he said. “Reducing the size of the collection was a hot issue early on. I can’t say that this controversy will ever go away.”

But, he said, administrators came to the decision that “we are not going to use primary real estate on campus for storing collections,” and he has noticed that libraries at other institutions consolidate and share collections. “I think we will see most libraries moving in this direction.” —Scott Carlson

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