Widener Unveils New Reading Room

David R. Fields

Patrons work in Widener Library’s Phillips reading room, which opened for the first time yesterday.

After two years of construction, the Phillips reading room in Widener Library opened its doors to the Harvard community yesterday, marking a significant step towards the completion of the Widener stacks renovation project.

To correct the flaws of past designs, the renovation project converted the courtyard in the east wing of the library’s third floor into a reading room for the use of non-circulating matierials.

Made possible by the donation of Charles G. Phillips ’70, the reading room boasts skylights, large glass windows and wood furnishing. Librarians said they were pleased that the project has finally been completed.

“It feels fabulous,” said Beth S. Brainard, director of communications for the Harvard College Library.

“I mean, there’s drilling and pounding and suddenly to see something so beautiful—it’s rewarding.”

The University began the reconstruction of Widener Library in 1999 in an effort to amend flaws in its original design that endangered the preservation of its multi-faceted collection.

When the Widener library opened in 1915, it was considered state-of-the-art, but was poorly outfitted for the long-term maintenance of books, Brainard said.

In keeping with the predominant belief that light and fresh air were beneficial, the building’s original design included open courtyards that vented fresh air throughout the library’s stacks.

“Eighty years later, book preservationists are cringing because the absolute worst things for books are sunlight and fresh air,” Brainard said.

While completion of a reading room in the west stacks will not be completed until 2004, the renovation project is on schedule and on budget, Brainard said.

“ I can’t tell you the amount of planning that went into this,” Brainard said. “We went around the world studying libraries. Yale had a terrible experience renovating its library that we were able to learn from.”

Thus far, the reading room has won over its early visitors.

“I love it—it has so much light,” said second-year graduate student Tamar Abramov. “The only other place is Lamont, [which is] kind of noisy and energetic.”

Extension school student Lukas Klic admired the room’s fusion of new and old architecure.

“It’s modernized yet still reminiscent of old Widener’s style,” Klic said.

While all seem impressed by the room, not all agreed on the current seating arrangements.

“It would be nice if there were some large comfortable chairs to read in,” Klic said.

But a perky Abramov said she thought otherwise.

“They don’t have any couches so you can’t nap,” she said.