October 6, 2008

Pending Univ. Approval, Olin Library Preps for Renovation

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Olin Library’s renovation, scheduled to begin in 2009 will usher in a new age of technological expansion to supplement the library’s current services. The renovation entails a physical and administrative transformation that will accommodate the needs of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates.
The Olin Renovation Planning Committee is overseeing the project, which focuses on floors three to eight in its first phase. It has not yet received approval from the trustees, thus the plans are very tentative and do not provide many details.
“Right now, we are in the middle of looking at approval from the administration and the financial issues [in terms of the national crisis] are very serious, so it is very preliminary. It is remarkable that the University is very supportive of what we are working out,” Jonathan Hoffman, co-chair of the committee said.
The plan entails an update of basic life safety systems for protection of its resources and visitors. Olin’s lack of sprinklers and smoke detectors and outdated fire detection system pose great risk in the event of an emergency.
The proposed suppression system would react to high temperatures and release water and alert the fire department, unlike the current rate-of-rise heat detectors. In addition, the HVAC system (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) is inadequate, causing constant temperature and humidity changes that cause both discomfort for visitors and damage of print materials.
“I suppose renovation is always a good thing. I just hope it doesn’t disrupt my use of Olin’s facilities for studying and finding books,” Illika Sahu ’12 said. “I’m glad that fire safety is a priority in this plan. So many students use this building everyday.”
Complaints about the conditions in Olin prompted the committee to seek the implementation of a more effective system. Faculty members were concerned with temperature fluctuations that would make their offices 50° one day and 90° another.
In a comment in the suggestion box for Olin in 2007, a student pleaded, “Please, for the love of God almighty, turn down the third floor heat. I get headaches constantly and my laptop overheats.”
The increased dependence of students on technology has prompted the library to incorporate further adjustments. Olin was originally designed as a closed stack library to serve the needs primarily of graduate students. Focus groups composed of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates demonstrated the changing social dynamic, as they emphasized the importance of computers, in addition to a core physical collection.
Carrels that are not equipped with electrical outlets create an inconvenience for laptop users, so increased electrical power will be available. Plans also include updating the data infrastructure so that Ethernet will be brought up to a full gigabit from its current 10 megabits. In addition, Olin will be implementing the Ezranet program to handle wider bandwidth and larger data.
“We had a lot of staff interaction with users and formally saw input from various user groups, as well as the student library advisory council, the faculty library board, the executive committee of administrators and users who have gone to the website and sent in comments to the mailbox,” said Pat Schafer, the other co-chair of the planning committee.
“On average, 3,350 people visit the library, and during peak academic periods the number climbs to 11,000. The library will remain open during the renovation, so it is essential that we identify ways to minimize disruption while maintaining essential services. This will be a challenge, but we intend to meet it successfully. Communication throughout the project will be critical,” she stated in an e-mail.
In the meantime, course reserves, permanent reserves and bound journals have been moved to either a different floor or temporary shelving. These materials were transferred from a room on the sixth floor room, as it was cleared for the removal of the wall to build a temporary interior wall for better insulation. This floor will require an air and moisture tight façade, meaning solid walls and windows, to provide an effective vapor barrier for increased thermal protection.
“Levels B2 to 2 will be the next phase, which will be another process needing approval. It is heartening to have been told that the life safety and HVAC will be addressed. Olin Library is one of the biggest buildings on campus, covering over 240,000 gross square feet,” Hoffman said.
Anne Kenney, the University Librarian, has announced the University’s goals of reinforcing the value of the physical book within digitized society and examining its role. A strengthening of the library administration will accompany Olin’s interior overhaul through the hiring of a chief technological strategist.
This addition is an unprecedented move by any library in the country, which demonstrates the Cornell Library’s constant need for evaluation and improvement to maintain its reputation of excellence among academic libraries.
“When libraries are renovated, the use of those facilities increases dramatically. The engineering library was renovated a couple of years ago and saw a 25 percent increase in its use. The library provides access to places for study, intensive focus, research materials and support, and technical support, which are all extremely vital to intellectual life. We recognize that we are known for our physical spaces and services that we provide through circulating of materials. Special collections in research libraries and rare materials are the ones that increasingly define the importance of the local collection,” Kenney said.