Undergraduate Library closes for four-year renovation project, undergraduate services to move to Main Library


The Daily Illini Photo File

Students study at the Undergraduate Library on March 12, 2019. The UGL will be closing on Saturday in starting its four-year renovation with other locations such as the ACES and the Grainger Engineering library providing accommodations for students.

By Lilli Bresnahan, Assistant News Editor

After it shuts its doors on Friday evening, the Undergraduate Library will be closed for construction as part of a years-long project to transform it into a new “Special Collections Facility” for the University Libraries Rare Book and Manuscript Library. 

According to Ralph Mathisen, professor in LAS and chair of the University Senate Library Committee, the idea to turn the UGL into a new facility originated in fall 2018, and construction is expected to begin in earnest next spring and finish by May 2024.

This move is being done as part of a larger multi-stage plan to renovate the Main Library, particularly the main stacks, which are a fire hazard, according to John Wilkin, dean of libraries and University librarian.

On April 27, the University Library and the University Senate Library Committee held a “town hall” to discuss further the renovation plans as well as the relocation of undergraduate library services. 

According to David Ward, head of the UGL, the services offered at the UGL will primarily be relocated to the Main Library. 

The Writer’s Workshop will be moved to the first floor of the Main Library along with consultation and technology support services. 

Advanced technology, such as cameras, lighting kits and microphones, will be on the third floor of the Main Library, while other loanable technology like chargers and calculators will be on the first floor. 

Concept art for the new Special Collections Facility replacing the Undergraduate Library. (Photo courtesy of Illinois Library Website)

The Media Commons studios will be on the second and third floor of the Main Library, as well as in the basement of the Grainger Engineering Library. 

“The Media Commons — those services are going to be more integrated across library locations with, again, the primary location still remaining in the Main Library,” Ward said at the town hall meeting.

The University Library will also be adding new group study spaces on the first floor of the Main Library, while the second and third floors will be quieter and mixed use study spaces. 

“Even though there are more students than ever on campus, library spaces are significantly less utilized than pre-pandemic,” Ward said. “The exception to this is Grainger.”

Once the 2022 spring semester ends, the UGL staff will transfer to their new units, according to Ward.

According to Sara Holder, director of reference and research at the Main Library, the plan for relocating undergraduate services includes an “inhale” phase and an “exhale” phase. 

The “inhale” phase will last until completion of the Special Collections Facility, Holder said. 

“We will be inhaling so that we can fit as many people in (the Main) library as we can,” Holder said. 

The “exhale” phase will include changing spaces based on observed needs in the Main Library that were once the Archives and Rare Book and Manuscripts Library.

Still, some are concerned that this may result in the overcrowding of library spaces during the planned four years of construction.

“The idea is that if we get every library on campus stuffed 100%, we’ll have close to what we would have had with the Undergraduate Library,” said Lori Newcomb, professor in LAS and member of the Library Consultation Working Group. 

Newcomb also believes that information about the project has not been well communicated.

“It seems to me that there needs to be a campus wide consulting committee for a project like this that impacts so many students,” Newcomb said. “There hasn’t been a robust public discussion.”

Mathisen also noted that many students and faculty were unaware of the planned closure until recently.

“Nobody had really heard about that one before,” Mathisen said. “There were a lot of undergraduates saying, rightly so, ‘We didn’t know about this, and we certainly were not consulted.’”

In order to plan for the amount of study spaces needed to handle closing the UGL, the University Library analyzed peak usage of the UGL from before the pandemic. 

“Pre-COVID-19, with the high use numbers then, we had spaces that were significantly underutilized and had a lot of seating capacity,” Ward said. “So we’re comfortable with the capacity we have at present.” 

To accommodate for the increase in undergraduates to other libraries, there will be added adjustments to those buildings, Ward said.

According to Ward, the ACES Library will add more seating, the Grainger Engineering Library will provide late night hours, the Music and Performing Arts Library will have more staffing and evening hours, and new classrooms are being added into the ACES library and are on track for completion in the summer of 2022.


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