Harper Library Renovation

A revitalized study and social space for the modern student.
Photo by: 
Avi Schwab, Class of 2003
"If I have a chance I will teach my 'Free Empire' class in one of the new classrooms—along with everyone else who wants to teach there”...
Dean John Boyer

It was hard for students returning from winter break to keep their library voices when talking about the newly completed renovations in Harper Library.

“The first time I got to see the renovations, I was walking through Harper and was like – ‘Wait, what?’” said second-year undergraduate Miguel Ortega. “I noticed that everything was different, with a clean design, as I walked through the corridor. It all looked refreshing.”

The project, years in the making, aimed to revitalize space on the main floor of Harper Library while respecting the historical architectural aspects of the campus landmark. Highlights of the renovations include a new informal learning space, the creation of a single-user restroom, and remodeled classrooms in the west wing.

Informal Learning Space

It’s now a common sight to see students filing into the new space outside Harper Library room 130, pulling out laptops to work on or books for reading. The creation of the informal learning space, which is stocked with couches, electrical outlets, and countertops, reflects the University’s desire to ensure that students have sufficient areas to work and socialize in.

“As an institution, we’re trying to make sure students have ample study space and have the opportunity to sit down, 10 minutes after class, and absorb what you’ve just taken in over an hour or two hours, and maybe even pick up your email,” said Kelly Simmons, Associate University Registrar and the Director of Classroom Services at the University.

Immediately noticeable upon entry are the digital screens displaying information about student presentations, University events, and application deadlines, among other things. These screens can be found in the informal learning space and in the corridor between Wieboldt Hall and Harper Library.

To accommodate individuals seated on wheelchairs, countertops in the informal learning space were installed at different heights. Individuals can use the countertops while seated on the provided café chairs or on wheelchairs, with convenient access to nearby outlets.

In fact, the couches also have outlets, in the form of pull-up cylinders installed inside the arm rests. Simmons mentioned the possibility of installing USB ports into the outlets in the future, to allow individuals to plug in their devices for charging.

Conveniences for All

The overall purpose of the renovations, which brought Harper Library into full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, was “to create a higher-quality learning space for faculty and students,” said Simmons.

Harper now houses a single-user washroom on the first floor, located along the corridor near the entrance into Harper’s west tower. Additionally, expansions to the male and female facilities on the first floor will better accommodate the restroom traffic.

As a primary means of improving accessibility, the classrooms feature new furniture with greater portability. Casters installed on all the tables and chairs make room rearrangements much easier, and students and faculty no longer need to lift up any furniture for stacking.

The new furniture replaced the tablet arm seats and addressed feedback from students who wished for larger writing surfaces. “They’re bringing their laptops, books, notes, coats; they’re commuting, they’re bringing their whole lives with them throughout the day,” explained Simmons. The individual space the furniture provides for each student is now 30 inches, compared to the previous 24 inches.

Classroom Reorientation

Harper 130 underwent a complete reorientation—the room now faces north—and gained a state-of-the-art dual monitor projection system. The wider orientation allows people to view material via the digital monitors on either side. Moreover, instructors can use a writing surface to digitally project material at the same time, without worrying about interfering with visibility.

“They can have their PowerPoints going on either side—students will be able to see that—and still be able to use the boards,” said Simmons. “A lot of our faculty, especially our math faculty, really love using those boards.”

All the tables in Harper 130 provide electrical outlets. “There’s recognition that every student is coming to school with a laptop or mobile device they’d like to plug in,” said Simmons. “That’s one of the standards we’re trying to bring in, ensuring that we can accommodate the type of student we’re serving now.”

Classrooms in the east wing and west wing also received new furniture, and feature improved lighting, new classroom blinds, new flooring, and fresh paint.

Outlook

Simmons expressed her desire to gain student feedback about the renovations over the coming weeks. “Did we achieve our goals? Is the place comfortable, flexible, easy to move around in, is the technology easy to use?”

Dean Boyer remarked that the renovations made more of an efficient and effective use of the space in Harper Library.

“I think it turned out rather handsomely, both aesthetically and architecturally,” said Boyer. “I look forward to teaching down there myself. If I have a chance I will teach my Free Empire class in one of the new classrooms—along with everyone else who wants to teach there.”