Fifteen Minutes: Breaking the Rules at Widener
Thanks to the large yellow eyesore towering almost 200 feet over the Yard, it's no secret that some serious work is being done to Widener Library. And if you remember all the fun facts from your pre-frosh Crimson Key campus tour, you should know that renovations to this library come with some major strings attached. Take, for instance, the stipulations that "not a brick, stone, or piece of mortar [could] be changed" on the completed building, and that no structures could be erected in the light courts at the center of the building. How, you ask, has the crafty Harvard administration managed to side step these restrictions. A library communications officer, allows that both of these provisions are being broken--but with "the blessing of the Widener family."
At the time of Widener's construction, book preservation theory was about as watertight as the ship that sank old Harry. Even the most knowledgeable authorities thought that sunlight and fresh air kept old tomes looking new--hence the light courts. But half a century later, enlightened book preservationists sounded the alarm. Since little could be done under Mrs. Widener's guidelines, the family agreed to waive the ban on construction in the 1960s, and minor changes were made.
For the most recent "Widener Stacks Renovation" (WSR), the Harvard administration asked the family for permission to step outside the bounds of Mrs. Widener's original plans, and the Wideners again told the University to "do what you need to do to preserve the collection," according to the communications officer. According to the WSR Web site, this includes "an upgrade of the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, humidity control, electrical, lighting, fire suppression and security systems," as well as additional offices and reading rooms in the previously useless light courts. And it's no coincidence that one of the main project goals for Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, the architectural firm handling the renovation, is "preserving the historic character of exterior and interior spaces." Step on one Widener family toe, and the library reverts to the control of the city of Cambridge.
And in case you were worried about another stipulation, that Harry's memorial room be provided with a fresh flower each day, rest assured that the librarians have this well under control too. While the room is being cleaned and refurbished, a flower will be left for Harry in the rotunda. Mrs. Widener would be proud.