On May 4, 2022, College President Paula Johnson wrote to the community that the Board of Trustees had approved plans to renovate several administrative buildings “to help secure the future of the Wellesley campus.” Following the three-year construction period of the Science Center between 2019 to 2022 will be the renovation of Pendleton East in spring 2023, after which, Chief Information Officer and Associate Provost Ravi Ravishanker announced on Sept. 26, the Clapp Library will be closed for renovations for an anticipated 15-month period between June 2023 and Aug. 2024.
According to Associate Provost Ravishanker, the renovation will target several key goals primarily addressing critical repair needs in the building and improving performance. The planning team is also addressing goals set by an ad hoc faculty committee organized by Provost Andy Shennan. The current heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system will be replaced with a more environmentally friendly low-temperature hot water system, infrastructure will be brought up to modern fire code and ADA accessibility standards, the current electrical service and technology infrastructure will be upgraded and repairs will be done to the roof and facades to address leaks and “improve thermal performance.”
“The scale of this renovation is very different from what has taken place,” Associate Provost Ravishanker said, noting that almost everything in the library was expected to be moved out and then back in. “It’s a very significant change. When everything is said and done, the College is committed to certain environmental principles for our buildings, and our Clapp Library will be consistent with what the college is aiming to do in terms of being good environmental citizens.”
According to Director of Research and Instructional Support David O’Steen, most of the changes will be behind-the-scenes. Some of the most visible changes will be an ADA-compliant ramp leading into the main entrance of the library and a rearrangement of the second, third and fourth floors allowing for single wheelchair access in-between stacks. Because the stacks were previously evenly weight-distributed over columns present in the lower floors, keeping the current load bearing capacity with the expansion of the stacks will likely result in a reduction of physical books.
Other anticipated benefits of the renovations will be improved air quality and better humidity and temperature control.
“[The new HVAC system will] increase the healthy environment for the people and the materials in the library,” College Archivist Sara Ludovissy said. “As an archivist, I’m especially interested in this and making sure our environment is updated.”
Programs that the library currently houses, including the PLTC, book arts lab, writing program, makerspace, help desk and library service desk, will all be moved to yet-undetermined locations.
Curator of Special Collections Ruth Rogers stated that much of the moving of the physical collections was also still in the planning stage.
“We are interviewing at least three professional movers and storage facilities that have experience with moving. We’re taking the utmost care to make sure that they will be moved and stored expertly,” Rogers said. “There will be a small, working collection, but we don’t have any details about that.”
The library already stores over 670,000 documents in a separate storage facility that can be delivered overnight to campus upon request. The college also has a current working relationship with JSTOR that supplies a large number of ebooks online on a click-to-buy basis funded by the library. The inter-library loan system, where students can request a resource that is not physically present on campus but may be in another partner institution or library, is another current working example of how students may be able to access resources during the renovation period.
“The places where we’re looking to store our general collections will be recallable, so nothing in our general collections will be inaccessible,” said Jenifer Bartle, Director of Library Collections. “The librarians will be available to identify staff and faculty to see how to get the materials they need. We’ll figure out the best way to meet the needs of people.”
In addition, the LTS team is currently in talks with faculty to create an in-person reserve library for common resources used in classes. Ludovissy is also working on a list of documents to digitize to maximize accessibility.
“Communication is really important. It’s our intention to communicate in detail to make sure everybody knows what’s going on and where to find the information they need,” Bartle said. “We don’t want to have too much information scattered throughout campus.”
The library currently houses several classrooms and office spaces, with hopes to potentially build a new temperature-controlled classroom within Special Collections. During the renovation, classes will likely move to the modular classrooms, while LTS staff will likely work remotely or on a rotating in-person basis.
“A lot of what you are hearing here are our wish lists and planning. These are all in very early stages of planning and we do not have any final word on exactly where we are going,” Associate Provost Ravishanker said. “We are brainstorming a lot of ideas, we are working with facilities, and finally, there’s something called budget and that is a constraint we need to work within. There are things we are already doing and we’re using this as an opportunity to talk to the community about the various things that we provide to the community that many are not aware of.”
More uncertainties lay with how the library closure will affect student life on campus.
“As far as I know, I think this will be the only year I’ll be able to work at the archives,” said Nerissa Yiu ’24, who currently works in the library. According to Pam Pfeiffer, the Public Services Manager, students workers this year will still maintain employment with the library.
Students writing a thesis traditionally are assigned their own desk, or thesis carrels, in Clapp to work and store materials. Currently, there is no master plan as to what spaces will be provided for such thesising students.
“My department will hopefully [provide] another space [for our thesis students] to work in at least during daytime hours that’s not their room,” said Sarah Wall-Randall, an associate professor of English and member of the ad-hoc faculty committee. “I am planning on encouraging my department to designate an office or a lock-in closet where students can hold thesising materials. It’s a different conversation about space after the pandemic and where physically we can work and if there are ways to use spaces in our department more efficiently.”
Additionally, the library has regularly been frequented by students as a study space. Without access to the library, the only other frequented study area on campus of a similar scale will be the newly renovated Science Center.
“I’m sad because I took a gap year and I would have graduated this year but instead I’m graduating next year, so that means I won’t have a library my senior year,” Yiu said. “Personally, because I’ve always lived in the Tower Court, it’s so convenient to go to the library and then walk back to my dorm, but if I have to walk all the way to Sci, I might not study in places outside of my room as often, which would be unfortunate.”
The last time the library was updated was in 1999, under the leadership of President Diana Walsh. During the tenure of President Kim Bottomly between 2007 and 2016, no large-scale renovations took place.
“Most college campuses undergo construction processes constantly, but Wellesley does not, so a number of buildings need to undergo renovations. While Clapp is under renovation, there are more buildings as well,” O’Steen said. “Facilities [has] kind of got the hang of this, they know how to do this project, and the campus should expect to undergo disruptions for the next ten years at least.”
Yewon Jeong contributed to reporting.