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University Hall and the Harvard College Libraries (HCL) unveiled Friday a two-year plan to gut Hilles Library to make way for student activity space, leaving behind a truncated study area to serve the thousand-plus students who live in the Quad.
The disclosure touched off a firestorm of criticism on Quad House e-mail lists this weekend, as residents protested the loss of Hilles and what they perceived to be a unilateral decision on the part of University administrators.
Also included is a plan to renovate the main floor of Lamont Library to make room for a new media center and the Morse Music Library—now housed on the top floor of Hilles. The fifth floor of Lamont will also be refurbished to match the reading room on the third floor.
The decision follows months of deliberations on how to address HCL’s budget woes but has also been presented as an answer to the pressing need for undergraduate social space.
Despite the fact that officials in HCL and University Hall said there are no final plans for the soon-to-be vacant space, construction on Hilles and Lamont is slated to begin in the summer of 2004.
Questions for the Quad
Citing a “decline in usage of Hilles library,” a University Hall press statement released Friday stated that “Hilles can now be reconfigured for other student needs.”
Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 said he will consult with the Committee on College Life and the Undergraduate Council about what exactly will go in the space, saying he wants to leave possibilities open.
“Right now we have the opportunity to drastically enhance the life of the Quad,” Gross said on Friday. “All kinds of organizations need space, or lockers. There could be a new exercise room, a late night social space, a place to get food. I’m not the one to propose these things—that’s exactly what I want from the students.”
Though over 50,000 square feet of space in the building will be freed up by the renovations, College officials maintained that ample study space will remain available for Quad residents. The renovated library section is expected to offer reference and reserve services.
Friday’s press release also announced the renovation of a portion of the Quadrangle Recreational Athletics Center (QRAC) for dance space. (Please see story, page A-1).
Following the announcement, the Quad resounded with student protest this weekend. House list-serves were flooded with questions and complaints about the decision, with students calling the decision proof of the College’s marginalization of Quad residents.
“Initial reaction was negative because of the way it was presented,” said Currier House Committee President Lacey Whitmire ’05.
Though Whitmire said the Quad House Masters had a hint of the decision to come, none of the House Committees were consulted.
“In the last week, we’ve heard three things: the Quad might be moved to Allston, plus Hilles, plus QRAC. It’s all very shocking, like nobody cares,” she added.
In response to the flurry of e-mails, the Currier House Masters held a meeting last night with several students to discuss the decision.
Despite the initial shock of Friday’s announcement, by Sunday evening many Quad students had come to see the potential boons of the new arrangement.
Many residents contacted yesterday said that if the renovated space succeeds in attracting more student activity up Garden Street, the loss of most of Hilles may be justified.
“If they can assure that without drastically and negatively impacting study space and the collection, then we’re all for it,” Whitmire said. “There is a balance they have to maintain,”
And in an e-mail sent out to the list-serves of the three Quad houses Saturday, Undergraduate Council President Rohit Chopra ’04 expressed what he saw as the pros and cons of the Hilles decision.
While expressing sympathy for the employees at Hilles, Chopra’s e-mail pointed to the possible gain of student space and the latent potential for a revitalized Quad life.
Chopra also said he will set up a special Council committee to outline a plan for the future of the vacated space in Hilles.
Gross says that, rather than draining the Quad of its resources, the move will open up more space for Quadlings and potentially bring more activity to the area.
Libraries at a Loss
Budget concerns and declines in student usage of Hilles were the primary reasons for the decision to surrender much of the building to student activity use, library officials said Friday.
“In the course of our deliberations over the budget, we came to the conclusion that we can’t sustain the level of duplication we have at Hilles,” said Nancy Cline, head of HCL. “Usage has dropped, and from a budget perspective, it makes sense to make room for other student activities there.”
Most of the books in Hilles will either be sold or relocated within HCL in the next two years as the library’s presence drops to one floor of the building. The same will be the case for the 20 or so Hilles employees, who were informed of the news at a meeting Cline held for Hilles and Lamont staff on Friday morning.
Besides budgetary concerns, Cline says that use of Hilles has declined slowly over the years as students have turned increasingly to online resources and Lamont. While no “absolute data” were available, Cline estimates that Lamont has three times the usage of Hilles.
Part of the phasing out of Hilles is a large-scale renovation of Lamont Library, made possible by a $1 million grant to rebuild the fifth floor reading room.
Cline declined to name the donor on Sunday.
As the current plan stands, the main study space in Lamont will move upstairs to make way for more media-based research, such as the music library and research center.
The rationale behind this, according to Cline, is to keep the technology close to the staff on the main floor and make room for more quiet study space on the fifth floor of Lamont, a traditionally less crowded area of the undergraduate library.
But no one in HCL could confirm details of the plan for Lamont.
“We’re not sure that the third floor reading room is going to be divided,” said HCL spokesperson Beth Brainard. “A lot of things need to be done, we’re just not sure how much space is needed.”
Construction on Lamont is set to begin next summer, but with no exact figures or formal blueprint at hand, the plan is still up in the air. Cline says that HCL may organize focus groups to discuss the best directions for Lamont.
HCL and University Hall officials said there will be no loss of service at any of their libraries during the renovation period.
The University Hall press release said that amenities such as later hours may eventually be possible because of the change.
HCL has been mired in budget problems for several years, and efforts at trimming expenditures have met with limited success.
“We have been working on budget issues for ten months now,” Cline says. “But expenses rack up faster than income. Looking at these factors, we knew we had to make changes.”
Clearing out most of Hilles will save HCL $1 million in wages and maintenance.
—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at email@example.com.
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