Improving Perkins



A renovation committee is gathering suggestions and considering ideas for a new internal design and possible expansion of the William R. Perkins Library. The planning, which is being conducted with the Boston architectural firm Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott, is a preliminary step that will lead to some of the most significant improvements in the library's history, says University Librarian David Ferriero.

"We have the chance not just to renovate Perkins, but also to re-envision it and make it into a facility that, in addition to supporting teaching and research, more substantially stimulates the intellectual life of the university," says Ferriero.

Perkins is the flagship of the university library system. Located on West Campus, it is the largest of Duke's eleven libraries. The newest of Perkins' three sections was completed in 1969, and since then the building has undergone only modest modifications.

"Duke has the library collections and services of a major research university," says Robert L. Byrd '72, chair of the renovation committee. "But right now we don't have a library building suitable for a major research university."

That will change with the renovations. The construction and remodeling, which could begin as early as the fall of 2002, will be done in phases, over three or four years. A phased renovation is necessary to avoid interrupting the library's operations, Byrd says.

Appointed by Provost Peter Lange, the twenty-six-member committee began work last semester. The group is made up of students, faculty, staff, and administrators. It includes representatives from the library system, the Office of Information Technology, the provost's office, and the Facilities Management department, among other units of the university.

In an effort to share ideas and gather suggestions, the committee held five open forums during the fall semester: two for faculty, one for undergraduates, one for graduate and professional students, and one for library staff. In addition, committee representatives held twelve meetings during the same period with select university bodies such as the Library Council, the faculty's Arts and Sciences Council, and the Academic Council. Essentially, the committee's charge is to rethink the library's role on campus and to develop a common vision suggesting how it can best meet the needs of the university community over roughly the next quarter century. Some of the issues being considered by the renovation committee are the evolving nature of library services in relation to changes in the Duke curriculum, information technology, scholarly communication, and campus facilities. The new design, while addressing these matters, is expected to be highly flexible to make it easier to continue to update the library in the future.

Comments that have arisen in the meetings and open forums indicate that some people think the library should be more inviting and comfortable, noting that spaces such as the Perk coffee bar are conducive to intellectual exchange. Others assert that spaces for "light study" should be available elsewhere on campus, and that the library should foster an environment for contemplation.

"We don't think the library should be a social center per se. It is an intellectual center," says Byrd. "Research and learning are sometimes solitary and contemplative, and sometimes social and collaborative. We plan to accommodate both, but neither at the expense of the other." The university has set aside $15 million toward the improvements. In addition, the Campaign for Duke includes a goal of $15 million for the Perkins renovations. The administration has said the renovations are an institutional priority and has agreed to back them, says Ferriero. For more information on the renovation planning process and to offer comments to the committee, access renovation/.



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