When Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles addressed the Faculty in his annual letter in January, one of his missive's more remarkable lines referred to the University's signature library.
"The odor of Widener's deeper recesses, while providing olfactory nostalgia to generations of readers, is actually the smell of decaying books," he wrote.
This problem--book decay due to heat, humidity and sunlight in Widener's non-climate-controlled stacks--will soon be tackled as Harvard's largest library receives its most significant renovation ever.
And, while little change will be visible from the outside, the massive project has been likened to Boston's "Big Dig" to place the city's Central Artery underground.
The project, slated to begin in June and cost $52 million, will include the addition of air conditioning, a sprinkler system, a new fire detection system and two new reading rooms.
The renovations will begin sometime after commencement with the erection of a sky crane at the Widener gate on Mass. Ave.
"[We have been] in up to here with the planning. It's the biggest project any of us will ever be involved in," says Nancy M. Cline, Larsen librarian of Harvard College.
"There are new construction projects here that would not impact as much...on the campus."
Susan A. Lee, Cline's deputy in charge of planning and administration says the project is one of the biggest library renovation projects ever.
By comparison, Yale's recent renovation of its main library, Sterling Memorial, cost just over $30 million.
Faculty say the massive size of this project is justified by the potential consequences should the books continue to decay.
"It would be intellectual suicide not to go ahead with this project," wrote James Engell, professor of English and comparative literature.
Library officials say they are attempting to learn from the experiences of other major research libraries
They also looked to the experience at LangdellLibrary at Harvard Law School, which closed for ayear while it was renovated earlier this decade.
But because it shut down, Langdell offers fewlessons for Harvard's biggest library, which hasno plans to close and has exponentially more booksthan its law school counterpart.