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Weighing the options for UND's Chester Fritz Library

Stephanie Walker, the new Dean of Libraries at UND, assumed her new duties in September.A tentative plan in place for a renovation at the Chester Fritz Library includes adding on a collaborative study lounge and retaining almost all of the library’s existing physical volumes. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 4
Stephanie Walker, the new Dean of Libraries at UND, assumed her new duties in September.A tentative plan in place for a renovation at the Chester Fritz Library includes adding on a collaborative study lounge and retaining almost all of the library’s existing physical volumes. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 4
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Conceptual floor plan of what the first floor of the UND Chester Fritz Library could look like after the future remodeling project is completed. The design still is in the master plan phase and could change. (Graphic courtesy of UND, ICON Architectural Group and Stantec)4 / 4

The Chester Fritz Library could look drastically different inside if everything goes as planned at UND.

After gathering input from the campus community for months, architectural firms are working with UND officials to create a plan that would consolidate space spent on storing physical books through compact shelving and turn the library into an information hub where students can study, find help and utilize technology.

"It's still an academic research library," UND Facilities Design Project Manager Chris Wetch said. "We don't want this to be the Memorial Union."

Last February, UND President Robert Kelley said $7.8 million worth of renovations were planned for the library, and 10 months later drafts and renderings of potential changes are in circulation.

The plan could change, but consultants with ICON Architecture, Stantec and the UND Facilities Management Department are considering storing most of the library's physical books on the first floor, using the second floor as a louder common study space, the third as a quiet scholar's area and using the fourth floor to house special collections.

The Chester Fritz Library, built in 1962, received an addition in 1982. About 65 percent of the library's floor space is devoted to book storage while other comparable research libraries across the country devote less than 20 percent to that purpose, said Stephanie Walker dean of libraries and information resources.

The library has more than 17 miles of traditional shelving, Walker said.

The tentative plan for the library's renovation includes installing compact shelving on the first floor and culling through unnecessary duplicates using best practices, which Walker said would reduce the amount of space used to store books by about 40 percent.

Dave Chakraborty, the UND associate vice president for Facilities Management, said pending donor approval, a student collaboration center is slated for construction off the south side of the library as well.

Aside from the $7.8 million in local funds university administration has already committed, Chakraborty said the total cost of the renovation or how those funds will be raised is unknown yet.

"The library is the most important academic building on campus," he said. "It's a focus of academic activity and what we're trying to do is get those faces in the library."

Progress

Before retiring, former UND Library Director Wilbur Stolt spent much of 2014 and some of 2015 studying library trends and best practices on developmental leave.

In January 2014, several people on the UND campus were distressed at the sight of a dumpster full of books. Those approximately 37,000 volumes from the School of Law library were outdated or available online, officials said.

When the Chester Fritz Library faced a budget shortfall that spring, students circulated a "Save the Chester Fritz" petition that garnered more than 400 signatures. The Office of the Provost eventually balanced the budget.

Earlier this year, a student government survey of 735 students found students wanted more power outlets, food and drink options at the library. Some went so far as to call the building "useless," in the comment section.

In April, evidence of concern remained when a consultant, Grand Valley State University Dean of University Libraries Lee Van Orsdel, said during a library forum on campus that she heard a "deep anger" when the discussion became extremely tense.

Walker said once she took the dean position in September, some on campus weren't aware that it's normal practice for research libraries to cull through physical volumes and discard duplicate, outdated or worn-out copies.

"There will always be people that don't believe it or don't accept it, and you do the best you can," she said.

Walker said the library staff discards books using practices outlined by both the American Library Association and the Association of College and Research Libraries. Decisions are based on usage, other area libraries and whether the information is dated or available through online subscriptions, among other things.

"We're still providing all of the information, but you have to make it available in different ways," she said.

Before discarding books, titles are posted to an internal university website so faculty have the chance to acquire the volume. Walker said the collection analysis and installation of compact shelving will result in losing between 1 and 2 percent of the library's entire physical collection.

"We want to make sure whatever design we do, we respect concerns from faculty and we are holding as many volumes as we can in the library," Chakraborty said.

The look

Walker has also been involved in renovations at most of the libraries she has worked at in the past, including the City University of New York at Brooklyn College Library, Harvard Medical School's Countway Library and the University of Toronto's Dental Library.

"I think with a lot of libraries, it's just betting to be that time ... a lot of libraries are older buildings and they never imagined things like Wi-Fi would exist when they were built," Walker said.

Plans are preliminary at this point, but Walker has high hopes for the renovation. She said along with having more outlets available, she wants to look at high-tech additions, like the Brody Learning Commons wall at Johns Hopkins University.

"I want space where people surprise us with what they do with it," she said.

Wetch said architects are considering a corridor through the spine of the building, increasing natural light sources and giving the library an overall open feel. If the student collaboration center becomes a reality, Wetch said it would be a collegiate gothic style addition, keeping with the look of the other buildings surrounding UND's quad.

As the spring semester starts, small renovations and test sites will emerge to learn what types of furniture and seating students gravitate toward, Walker said.

It's still unclear when the overhaul would begin, but Walker said the building needs basic structural repairs that will require time and funding.

Chakraborty said there have been talks of leveraging the $7.8 million to acquire match dollars either from donors or the state.

As plans grow and change and more feedback is gathered, Walker said the most important aspect of moving forward is listening to input from the campus community.

"People have different visions of what they'd most like to see in the library, so we're trying to listen to everybody and strike the best balance," she said.

Information about the Chester Fritz Library renovation is available online here.

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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