MIT libraries planning major space renovations

Large project will include Hayden redesign

6989 libraries
Hayden Library will soon undergo renovations.
Melissa Renée Schumacher—The Tech

The MIT administration said it is in the early stages of planning major renovations of campus libraries, including Hayden (humanities and sciences), Barker (engineering), and Rotch (architecture and planning). Organizers have not yet decided specific details of the project, and are encouraging input from the community.

The multi-year, multi-million-dollar renovations will likely include reorganizations of Hayden and Barker libraries and structural changes to Rotch, according to Jeffrey Ravel, Chair of the Faculty Committee on the Library System, and Steven Gass, interim director of libraries. The project aims to make library spaces more useful for students and staff, and to improve the buildings’ infrastructure.

According to Ravel and Gass, the centerpiece of the changes will be a redesign of Hayden Library. Spaces for both individual and group study, as well as classrooms, will be modified and expanded to better fit students’ and instructors’ needs. In order to facilitate interdisciplinary research, the engineering resources collection and the Geographic Information Systems laboratory in Building 7 might be moved to join the science resources already in Hayden. A cafe might be also added to “make this library more of a destination space,” said Ravel.

Meanwhile, smaller-scale changes are planned for other library areas.

Barker Library will likely be emptied of traditional library materials to become a 24/7 study space, inspired by the success of a recent renovation of its reading room, according to an article published by Ravel and Gass in the most recent MIT faculty newsletter.

Improvements to Rotch Library will include added group study spaces, structural changes to fix noise issues, and reorganization to make the limited-access collection easier to use.

Planners hope to take advantage of these programmatic changes to also make physical repairs. Richards said that the chief areas of concern are accessibility, facilities, and mechanical and electrical systems. Gass added that Hayden is “over 60 years old, and there’s been no major infrastructure renewal.”

Planning for the renovations began with a phase one report, produced in 2012, which provided general proposals for a restructuring of MIT’s library system. MIT’s chief space-planning body, the Committee for Renovation and Space Planning (CRSP), launched phase two last fall. This stage of the project will focus on producing specific plans and securing sufficient funding for the renovations.

The renovation process does not yet have a set timeline. “I think it would be fair to say it’s going to happen over multiple years,” said Gass. However, organizers are planning on “probably keeping an active building at the same time,” according to Sonia Richards, program manager for Capital Projects Group, the body responsible for planning large-scale campus renovations.

The renovations’ funding sources are similarly unclear. Currently, funds are promised from CRSP and from MIT 2030, the Institute’s long-term planning initiative. Organizers are also seeking additional funding from the upcoming MIT capital campaign. The cost of the project, while still uncertain, will be sizeable. “I think it’s in the tens of millions of dollars, but being more specific than that would not be fair or accurate at this point in time,” said Gass.

Very few plans are set in stone, and the renovations’ organizers are seeking input from the MIT community. Gass said, “To date, there has not been enough student engagement.” A triennial library survey is scheduled for November. The survey will allow students, staff, and faculty to voice their opinions. Organizers are also planning to publicize the renovations through a website (launched this week at, blogs, Twitter, and posters. Gass also stated there will be several focused sessions where students can discuss their views with the project’s planners and architects.

Matthew J. Davis ’16 is one of two undergraduate students on the Committee on the Library Systems, which also includes two graduate students. Davis wrote by email that he is “very excited to see the tremendous impact that the renovations will have on the quality of our community’s scholarship and cohesiveness.” Davis plans to gather feedback and keep students informed about the progress of the renovations through mailing lists, student meetings, and personal connections.

Most students interviewed were not aware of the planned renovations. Sophie A. Geoghan ’16, a library regular, had not heard about the plans, but supported many of the suggested renovations. “I like the idea of a [Hayden] cafe as long as it’s kind of hidden,” she said. Regarding the removal of books from Barker, she commented, “I’ve never used Barker as a library, only as a study space, so I think that would be fine.” As for the renovations’ effects on her day-to-day life, Geoghan said, “it would probably be annoying for a few years… but there’s so many options for where to study that I think they can renovate without shutting down all the areas to study in.”

Ryuga Hatano ’18 also did not know about the planned renovations, but disagreed that they would be worthwhile. “It would probably be very disruptive… there’s enough construction going on already,” he explained. “I find the spaces adequate to my needs.”

Anonymous over 3 years ago

Since they request the input from students, here is mine: this tells me that the libraries need to have their budgets cut as they obviously have too many staff, who are as a result bored and so spend their time dreaming of these unnecessary plans. I spend a considerable amount of time in the libraries, especially Hayden, and don't think there is anything wrong with them at all. I guarantee that the proposed renovations will not improve my productivity or that of any other students, which should be all that matters. I suspect the library staff are more motivated by the idea of having something fun and new to work on, possibly being able to publish a paper about their innovations, and putting on their CVs that they oversaw a big project like this. Perhaps the library staff can tell us about how successful the renovations on the ground floor of Hayden a few years ago were? Did the fancy new lighting system work out well? I very much hope that the Institute's administration will see that this money would be much better spent creating new endowed professorships or student fellowships.

Anonymous over 3 years ago

All I need is a desk and a chair. If the library staff wish to help me do my work, the best thing they could do would be to not talk so loudly.

Anonymous over 3 years ago

As a staff member in a college (not MIT), I can assure you "library staff" have nothing to do with the final decision to renovate. The facilities management personnel and committees are usually the decision makers, sometimes with input from staff - and in this case from students and community as well (as they've indicated in this article).

As for them needing to cut staff for budgeting or having extra money - most colleges operate on a fund budget, so the pot of money designated for building construction and facilities improvements cannot legally be spent for anything else, just like the pot of money designated for salary cannot be spent elsewhere. Thus, in a fund budget system like this, the money referenced for building projects cannot be used to create jobs or scholarships, as inciting as that might be.

Lastly, while you might be 'ok' in the spaces, there are incredibly strict building, OSHA safety and other codes that you may not be aware of and likely were in question, which would be a valid reason to do updates. It is often cheaper overall to just re-do entire spaces than try to bring not up to code individual issues up to code.

Anonymous over 3 years ago

Thank you for your excellent points, #3. I wonder, for instance, if #1 has any accessibility issues in his/her life. I suspect not, or else they might realize that there are parts of Hayden that are quite literally inaccessible to anyone who is unable to climb stairs. But why should they get access to all the books, right, #1? You're fine, so everyone else must be, too. This hopefully points to at least some aspects of the libraries that not only should change, but need to.

Anonymous over 3 years ago


I am aware that this will sound terribly arrogant, but I don't think there is a more polite way of saying it that is equally effective.

I could tell from the issues you were concerned about that you were a member of staff. Compared to the importance of research to understand the universe, worrying about trivial issues seems ridiculous.


This can be solved by simply moving some things around. Put the book shelves from the mezzanine levels on the main floors and fill the empty spaces created on the mezzanine levels with desks. This can be done without spending "tens of millions of dollars".

Anonymous over 3 years ago

#3 here again, and actually I work at a college in Iowa. Thanks for thinking I would work at MIT, but alas I don't think I could handle the obvious arrogance and surprising ignorance of students like you.

Anonymous over 3 years ago

6: I didn't think that you worked at MIT, since you clearly stated this in your original post. I meant it was clear that you were a member of support staff (at any university), rather than someone involved in research.

Bill Hubbard over 3 years ago

Here's an idea: Let Schwartz/Silver design the renovations at Rotch. They got it right the first time.

Anonymous over 3 years ago

#8 - I hope that's tongue-in-cheek. There isn't a restroom. Noise travels everywhere. The basement is creepy and claustrophobic. If they had gotten it right the first time, they wouldn't need to dump millions of dollars into fixing a space less than 30 years after renovations.