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URBANA — A multimillion-dollar overhaul of the University of Illinois Library is apparently moving ahead even as professors and students continue to raise concerns about space and access to its priceless collection.

Provost Andreas Cangellaris expressed full support Thursday for the project first made public a year ago, citing worrisome conditions he found during a tour of the library after being named to his position.

“In my book, it’s a top priority,” Cangellaris said after a town hall meeting about the project.

But he said planners need to continue their consultations with library users, who had plenty of questions Thursday.

“They want to make sure that things don’t happen behind closed doors,” Cangellaris said.

The provost appointed a working group with faculty members last spring who were to collaborate with consultants in drawing up conceptual plans for the $54 million project, which will be financed with a mix of state and university funding and donations.

The working group will continue in some fashion as the project moves to more detailed planning phases “so there is an ongoing dialogue with members of the faculty,” Associate Dean of Libraries Tom Teper said.

University Librarian John Wilkin also pledged to appoint a faculty advisory board to shape the collection and help with decisions about which materials will go into the library’s “stacks” and departmental libraries.

“That’s a very big deal,” said English Professor Lori Newcomb, a member of the working group who had advocated for more faculty input.

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As initially proposed, the project would demolish five of the six stacks, build a new interdisciplinary liberal arts center in their place, move services for undergraduate students into the Main Library and turn the current Undergraduate Library into a home for the archives and other special collections.

The general outlines of the Main Library building were presented Thursday, and the working group will do the same for the proposed Special Collections library in a few weeks, said chairman David Chasco, a UI architecture professor who has worked on libraries for other Big Ten campuses. The group will then write up its report to the provost, he said.

The new five-level building replacing the stacks would have modern storage in the basement to house part of the collection.

The main floor would feature a new information desk near the east entrance, with a multistory atrium opening up views to the collections below. A learning center and student study spaces on the main floor would make up for seating displaced from the Undergrad Library.

Department libraries would all be on the second floor, which also houses the main circulation desk and Reading Room.

The third floor would have a media commons, a scholarly commons and a cooperative research commons. The idea is to provide a space where humanities or social sciences scholars can work individually or come together to collaborate on projects.

The fourth floor would be mostly offices for library administration and other operations, and possibly a graduate commons.

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Newcomb said consultants originally considered a concept for the library as an “innovator” where research projects are initiated, as opposed to the traditional “partner” model where scholars use the library as support for their research. But many faculty members felt the innovator model duplicated existing interdisciplinary centers across campus, she said. So consultants settled on a “partner plus” model that could support collaborative projects when needed.

The renovation plans call for the library to retain the 3.5 million volumes currently stored in the Main Library’s stacks. The rest of the library’s 14 million item collection is mostly in remote storage, online or in specialized libraries across campus.

Classics Professor Ariana Traill and other faculty members in the working group are pushing to build in more capacity and room for growth in the new building. Departmental libraries are already short on space and the Oak Street remote storage facility is at least 80 percent full, she said.

They also want to ensure that scholars in the humanities and social sciences, the library’s heaviest users, maintain the ability to browse the collection — “a very essential way of doing research for many of us,” Traill said.

“This isn’t just a renovation of a space. It’s also a change to a fundamental collection that is like people’s labs,” she said.

Classics graduate student Vaughn Fenton and others were concerned that space allocated to some departmental libraries would shrink by a third or more under plans presented Thursday.

Teper said compact shelving in the new lower-level storage areas will allow the library to accommodate “a lot more material in a lot less square footage,” and other space will be freed up when rare books move to the new special collections library, he said.

But Fenton and others want to be able to interact easily with books and literature, the foundation of their classes.

“Given that we’re all going to be shoved together in these much smaller spaces, I think we all think that might be a problem,” he said.

Graduate students also wanted to be sure they had space for individual research on their own dissertations. The 400 individual study carels now inside the stacks will be lost in the renovation, Teper said, but only about 60 percent are reserved by students now. He assured students the library will provide space to facilitate individual study, separate from the undergraduate population, perhaps with lockers to store materials they’ve checked out.

Chasco said the concerns are heightened because of the UI Library’s status as one of the best in the world.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” he added. “We’ve seen what happened at Notre Dame. We can’t let that happen.”

News-Gazette

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).