Littauer Library To Close This Summer

Art books displaced by Fogg renovations will fill the

Unnamed photo
Alicia Cowley

These empty bookshelves presage the Littauer collection’s future relocation to the off-campus Havard Depository.

It’s the end of the road for Littauer Library.

On June 8, the library on the ground floor of the Littauer building will close to users as it prepares to become the home of art books displaced by the renovation of the Fogg Museum. Many of the staff and services now located in Littauer will move to the first floor of Lamont Library, which will undergo renovation this summer to accommodate the change.

Littauer’s holdings, which contain materials on economics and government as well as many historical labor papers, will mostly be placed in the off-campus Harvard Depository.

Littauer, which until now held much of Harvard’s social science collection, consists of a sparsely populated reading room and two dark, low-ceilinged levels of subterranean stacks. It boasts a rusty dumbwaiter and an old-fashioned vault originally intended to hold the most valuable parts of the collection.

But the library’s primary feature today is row upon row of eerily empty shelves.

Littauer holds over 400,000 volumes and pamphlets, according to a 2004-2005 University library annual report, making it by that measure one of Harvard College Library’s four largest library collections. In the 2006 fiscal year, however, there were only 7,340 loans and renewals made, a relatively low amount of traffic for its size.

Relocated staff and services from Littauer will go to Lamont’s first level, which will close this summer for the move. Numeric Data Services and Environmental Data Services, currently based in Littauer, will be relocated there to join other units of the Harvard College Library’s Social Sciences Program (SSP).

“Instead of having that honeycombed partitioned look, it will have a more open and receptive feel,” Larsen Librarian of Harvard College Nancy Cline said of Lamont’s coming renovation.

Cline said moving the parts of the SSP closer together would facilitate research.

“We will be bringing together people to work more effectively,” said Cline.

MAKE WAY FOR ART

The fate of what is currently the Littauer library space has long been uncertain. According to Cline, previous plans included adding more social science holdings to Littauer. Before the art books’ long-term need for space became apparent, Harvard College Library administrators believed the art books might simply be able to share the Littauer space.

“For months, we were working on the assumption that we would have a place in the museum building to return to. Then, we learned that we couldn’t go back. That changed all the planning for the fine arts library and energized the relocation of the social sciences program,” she said.

Economics Department Chair James H. Stock said that he first learned of the art books’ impending arrival in February 2006 from then-Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William C. Kirby. Then, in April 2006 came the news that the Littauer library collection would be moved out entirely.

“This was a decision that was taken without our input, and one at which we were surprised,” said Stock. Kirby has said that the entire University shared common goals “in aspiring to a long-overdue renovation of the Fogg.”

The economics department, which occupies the rest of the Littauer building, had hoped to claim the space for teaching and research. A proposed renovation plan from several years ago shows plans to turn the space into a lecture hall, offices, classrooms and common areas. Stock also said he had hoped a renovation would create space for more faculty-student interaction.

“The introduction of the Fine Arts Library was more of a concern than the loss of the economics library,” Stock said, adding that the advent of electronic data reduced the need for economics researchers to venture downstairs for records.

But he said he fears that the presence of the art books—which will be accessible to students—will indefinitely shelve renovation plans for the Littauer building.

“Our long-awaited opportunity to use the library space in ways that would further research and teaching for the next 30 years will have to be put on hold,” he said.

It is not yet clear how long Littauer will play host to the arts books, though Cline said it could be several years or longer.

—Staff writer David Jiang can be reached at djiang@fas.harvard.edu.