Just a Thought
Harvard needs its space. And University administrators, realizing the space crunch that plagues Harvard's Cambridge campus, are increasingly looking across the river to Allston for room to expand. But before they break ground on our new multi-million-dollar plot of land in Allston, Harvard officials would be wise to look inward for ways to use their current space more effectively. They need look no farther than Hilles Library--the white elephant on Garden Street--for a virtual oasis of space in the square-footage desert that is the Cambridge real estate market.
Lamont's little sister on the Quad, Hilles has what everyone else wants: gobs of extra space. There are vast open areas throughout the airy, five-floor structure. Bookshelves are placed sparsely throughout the building and there are little nooks and crannies everywhere you look--a typewriter room here, a snack room there.
By continuing to operate Hilles as it has been for years--a sort of second rate Lamont that gives Quad residents something to brag about--Harvard wastes prime space on campus. With a little bit of good planning, Hilles could turn out to be a major player on the campus social scene.
Before I launch into my plan, which would scrap Hilles Library as we know it, I should first say that I am a huge fan of Hilles. Reserve readings are almost always available, an extremely talented and helpful staff is always on call, and the only time when the library sees one of its rooms get full is on Tuesday afternoons, when College administrators convene their Ad Board meetings on the penthouse floor.
But as much as I appreciate Hilles, the University would be wise to acknowledge the facility's shortcomings. Created as a library for Radcliffe College, the library does not have as many books as Lamont, nor is it in as good physical shape.
But with its book collection spreading sparse over three floors, its music collection on half of the fourth floor and the social studies department in the basement, having enough room is not an issue in Hilles. The issue is how best to use all that space.
If I were dean, I would make Hilles a Lamont satellite. Keep (and even fortify) the library's reserve collection, keep the periodicals, the reference books and even a small collection of general books. After that, let Lamont have the rest of the books. Let's face it--Quad residents have to go to the River for classes, so we might as well get our books there too.
By keeping the reserve collection strong, however, you give Quad students what they really want. And by sending peripheral books to Lamont or the Harvard Depository, you free up two huge floors of the library for general use. These floors could be easily converted into a space for student offices or even for more general use. Making Hilles the hub for student groups would also give the Quad another bragging right, making housing lottery assignments to Cabot, Currier and Pforzheimer more appealing than they often are.
What's more, Hilles also benefits from a huge courtyard in the center of its structure. Since the building's interior windows look out onto this beautiful area, I can say that in my three years of using Hilles, I have seen people in the courtyard once or twice.
My pitch would be to cover the courtyard with a glass roof and make it a student theater space. The area is certainly big enough to be used that way, and if University architects can make the ancient University Hall handicapped accessible on all of its floors, they can figure out a way to make this space into a theater.
Making any changes of this scale would take a considerable amount of money. But given the options for finding available space on this side of the Charles, Hilles starts to look more and more attractive.
Indeed, despite the major limiting factors of money and administrative politics, the University should pursue innovative projects to expand the amount of student space on campus. Members of the Ad Board on their way to meetings at Hilles would be wise to pay attention to the shabby rugs, old furniture and wide-open space in the library. If they thought about what the building could be, I think they'd be pleasantly surprised.
Scott A. Resnick '01 is an economics concentrator in Cabot House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.