News & Events

Building Project Moving Ahead

Last fall, Dean John Wilkin put forth a vision of a reconceptualized Library space that would establish a collections-centered research hub for the humanities and social sciences, and restyle the Undergraduate Library as a home for special collections (see Friendscript, Fall 2018). As plans emerge to replace the problematic, older portions of the Main Library stacks, Wilkin asserts that the highest priority of the massive restructuring will be “a commitment to collections” and the continuation of the Library’s “long history of engagement with faculty and students.”

Since then, efforts have crystallized around four initial steps: conversations or “salons” with faculty and graduate students; creation of a campuswide committee to oversee the project; consultations with a special collections expert: and, soon, conversations with design and architectural firms.

Held throughout the fall, Wilkin’s five salons gathered campus feedback on his proposal. “We didn’t try to engineer those dialogues,” he said of the exchange, noting that this was the first time the Library had sent an open email invitation to every faculty member. No one was turned away, and approximately a dozen people attended each session. While most participants came from the humanities and social sciences, professors from dance, chemistry, mathematics, and computer science also pitched in.

“We had these vigorous and open discussions,” Wilkin said, “and in the process, our faculty made clear” what they valued. “We heard those voices,” he said, “and those things will go into the planning.”

Themes or wants that emerged included a robust, browsable print collection and a strong relationship with departmental libraries. Space was sought for co-working among graduate students; for reservable, shared consultations; and for seminars, exhibits, events, and collaboration near the stacks. Participants also suggested focused support and activities around themes or topical areas, as well as opportunities such as those available in the Scholarly Commons, which offers a blend of collections and high-end technology and support.

In early 2019, Wilkin, the Provost, and the Vice Chancellor for Research will appoint a campuswide committee, primarily comprising faculty from key disciplines served by the Main Library. This group will ensure that the Library—described by Wilkin as “a significant, 150-year investment the University has made”—will “do this next thing right.”

The new year will also see the receipt of a report from the University of Minnesota’s Director of Special Collections, Kris Kiesling, who was engaged as a consultant to analyze the feasibility of moving the Library’s special collections into the Undergraduate Library space. In the early part of the year, talks will begin with architectural and design firms on how to incorporate faculty needs into the renovation, and how to stage the process in order to maintain access to collections and services during the renovation.

The project has already garnered donor support, including a large anonymous donation, as well as a major gift from Library Friend Hal Balbach, MS ’61 LAS, PHD ’65 LAS. Believing that “the way research and education is being conducted is changing dramatically,” Balbach foresees the Library continuing to adapt to bolster new research avenues. Active fundraising for the project will begin this year.

To keep up with renovation news, or to find answers to questions, visit the Building Project website at The renovation is slated for completion by December 2024.

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