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Upgrades planned for 46-year-old Olin Library

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More than one million visitors a year stream through the doors of Olin Library -- whether it be for books, computers, caffeine or a quiet place to study.

Like any 46-year-old facility, the library needs an upgrade to meet the scholarship demands of a modern university and to resolve serious life-safety and environmental problems. So extensive renovations are planned, with work tentatively starting in two years.

The library's plan calls for transforming the seventh floor into a series of variously sized rooms that can accommodate seminars and classroom instruction as well as group and quiet independent study. The plan also increases the number of computers available, adds more electrical outlets for laptop computer use and runs new power and data lines to faculty and graduate student study rooms on floors three through seven.

"Just as we have deferred maintenance on the environmental systems, we are overdue on providing programmatic upgrades to support the way faculty and students conduct research and learn," said Interim University Librarian Anne R. Kenney. "We risk losing top students to other universities the longer we delay on meeting their stated needs."

The results of a survey conducted last fall by Cornell University Library reinforced the changes being proposed by the library's planning team and many of the goals set forth in the university's master plan. The renovation of Olin, which was designed as a closed-stack library before computers became an integral part of research and instruction, is intended to meet new curriculum needs and the changing work and study habits of faculty and students by bringing it into the digital age.

Several libraries at Cornell have been updated and/or renovated in recent years. Some, such as the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library and the Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance, are in completely new facilities, while others, such as the Library Annex and Uris Library, have added space or refurbished existing rooms.

2007
Mann Library is scheduled to reopen its original building, which has been completely renovated, in the fall.

2005-06
Library Annex: Three new high-density storage modules added.

2004-05
John Henrik Clarke Africana Library: A new building was added to house the library as part of the expansion and renovation of the Africana Center.

Engineering Library: First floor renovated.

2002-03
Clark Physical Science Library: Staff and public spaces renovated and remodeled.

Uris Library: Kinkeldey Room renovated and refurbished.

Olin Library: Classics Seminar Room refurbished.

Fine Arts Library: Main Reading Room refurbished.

2001-02
Catherwood Library: Original wing renovated.

Olin Library: First floor refurbished.

2000-01
Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance: Newly constructed Lincoln Hall wing included space to house the music library and its collections.

The library's plan calls for transforming the seventh floor into a series of rooms that can accommodate seminars and classroom instruction as well as group and quiet independent study. The plan also increases the number of computers available, adds more electrical outlets for laptop computer use and runs new power and data lines to faculty and graduate student study rooms on floors three through seven.

Besides scholarship needs, a compelling reason for Olin's renovation is its lack of sprinklers and smoke detectors and its antiquated heating and cooling system, all of which threaten the library's users and collections. Fire is an obvious concern, but the building's constant temperature and humidity fluctuations also have a negative effect on the library's print volumes, acutely shortening their life spans and escalating the need for costly preservation in the future.

"We need to address life-safety problems for the protection of people and our collections," said John Hoffmann, director of facilities planning for the library. "The HVAC system is 46 years old and far beyond its lifespan. On any given day in the summer or the winter, temperatures are in the low 60s in one part of the building and in the 80s in another part."

The plan is currently in the design phase. Initial schematic drawings that address the proposed changes as well as environmental and safety concerns in the building have been prepared by architects, with the approval of the university's capital funding and priorities committee. The project would require shutting down one to two floors at a time so collections and study carrels could be relocated. The construction would begin at the upper levels and work on each floor would take approximately four to six months.

If the plan is approved by the university's capital funding and priorities committee in the spring, work could begin sometime in early 2009.

"We are the heart of the campus and we want to meet the needs of the campus," said Barbara Eden, a member of the library planning team for Olin's renovation and director of the library's department of preservation and collection maintenance. "The way people use library services today could not have been imagined in 1960."

Chris Philipp is a writer and editor for Library Communications.


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