UI library renovations move forward despite faculty concerns


Photo Courtesy of the University of Illinois Library

A concept drawing of the Main Library after renovation is shown above. University faculty is concerned for new construction at the Main Library due to disruptions caused by the pandemic

By Willie Cui, Assistant Daytime News Editor

Due to pandemic disruptions, faculty members have expressed concerns over the University Library’s plans to renovate the Main Library and convert the Undergraduate Library into a special collections facility.

During its April 5 meeting, the University Senate discussed a resolution (RS.21.03) that called for delaying the UGL conversion for six months so that “a committee including library staff and concerned faculty and student stakeholders” can meet and discuss these concerns. 

“What’s gonna happen to the undergrads?” said Ralph Mathisen, co-sponsor of the Senate resolution and professor in LAS. “We’re gonna be throwing them out of their favorite space and trying to squeeze them into the Main Library.”

Although the resolution was co-sponsored by 11 faculty senators and endorsed by 14 heads of department, it was ultimately rejected by the University Senate after University Library administrators voiced their opposition.

Initially, the University Library planned to renovate the Main Library after first converting the UGL into a special collections facility.

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One of greatest concerns voiced by faculty is that undergraduate students would have to “squeeze” into the unrenovated Main Library during the UGL conversion.

“I believe the public space in the Main Library … is at most a third of the square footage of the UGL,” said Lori Newcomb, professor in LAS and member of a library working group. “And that’s for everyone.”

This is confounded by growing concerns that the University Library is indefinitely postponing the Main Library renovation due to pandemic disruptions.

“So this is just scuttlebutt — the (University Library) decided that they needed to back off on redoing the Main Library,” Newcomb said. “And this is exactly what faculty didn’t want to have happen.” 

According to Mathisen, the University Library’s original plan was to use the space recovered from demolishing the Main Library’s central stacks during the renovations for undergraduate needs.

“There were those of us who wondered, ‘Why do you have to expel the undergraduates from their Library?” Mathisen said. “There must be other options for expanding the space for special collections.”

While the initial plan had a “two to three year awkward period” where undergraduates would have to make do with sharing the unrenovated Main Library, Newcomb is concerned that this might remain that way.

“My concern now is that since the Main Library renovation is on indefinite hold, that this crowding becomes the new status quo,” said Newcomb.

Newcomb noted that the resolution’s proposal for a working group to evaluate the needs and concerns of faculty and students was “appropriate” and that faculty “have been promised that in the past.” 

However, she also noted that the resolution called for a six-month delay in renovating the UGL, which would have placed the project’s funding at risk.

Mathisen took issue with how the University Library “was absolutely intransigent” during the Senate meeting. 

“I made some notes of the very disrespectful way that they treated this very innocent request to continue to have inquiry,” Mathisen said. “One thing they did, was to recapitulate what the plans were and just say ‘No, you’re wrong,’ or they said ‘Well, the planning process is already over; you already had your chance for input, so tough on you.’”

In a written statement, John Wilkin, dean of libraries and University librarian, along with David Chasco, chair of the Library Consultation Working Group and Pia Hunter, chair of the Senate Library Committee, urged the University Senate to vote against the resolution “so that efforts to advance the Library’s future needs can continue.”

“Postponing that work will almost certainly cause the Library’s building project to fail,” they said. “Most of the funding for the first phase cannot be used for other purposes and will be forfeit.”

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