CHARLESTON - Eastern Illinois University's Booth Library has long been a center for learning but it has not always been a comfortable place to study.
Allen Lanham, dean of library services, said poor use of building space had resulted in the library having cramped study areas by the 1990s, as well as stack levels that had long felt like a "deep, dark basement." He said the available student furniture was not comfortable and left little room for people to spread out their books and papers.
Lanham said the library became a much more inviting place 10 years ago this month when its renovation and expansion was completed. The library reopened on Feb. 14, 2002, featuring study areas stocked with comfortable furniture, group study rooms, more computer work stations, and many other new amenities.
"We have become the living room of the campus," Lanham said. "People do like to come here and sit. People do like to come here and meet. It's a community space."
Booth Library staff members have been reflecting on the renovation's 10-year anniversary this month and planning for the facility's future, including a new digital repository of EIU-related documents that is known as "The Keep."
Eastern's library opened in 1899 within the castle-like Old Main and remained there until construction began in 1948 on a stand-alone library, during which time the books and other materials were moved into a temporary building near the construction site.
The new university Gothic-style library opened in 1950 and was named in honor of Mary J. Booth, who served as Eastern's library director from 1904 to 1945. An annex was constructed on the back of the library in 1968 that more than doubled the size of the facility.
Lanham said the library's growing collection and Eastern's increasing student population eventually outstripped even this additional square footage. He said student study areas were sacrificed to create more space.
"In the old days, there was nowhere to go without taking away some of the tables and seating," Lanham said.
The cramped stacks levels also were becoming an increasingly uninviting place for students to visit. Lanham said almost every library employee encountered students who had gotten lost in the stacks. He said the windowless stacks felt like a "deep, dark basement" to students even though these levels were above ground.
In 1999, construction began on a $22.5-million renovation and expansion project at the library. The south facade of the original building and the floor structure of the 1968 annex were joined by a glassed atrium. A straight-line walkway was created on the main floor, linking the original north entrance and the new entrance at the south addition.
Lanham said extra space was gained throughout the building in part by installing moveable shelving on the ground floor, by moving little-used collection items to off-site storage in the lower level of the University Union, and by switching from printed to electronic formats for most new issues of academic journals and some other items.
Much of the newly available space was filled with study tables, lounge chairs, group study rooms, computer labs, audio/visual material rooms, and a spacious conference room.
Jocelyn Tipton, head of the library reference section, said students seem to like that the library provides comfortable spaces to study, meet with other students, and use computer labs and wireless Internet service at a central location on campus.
"The building is here for you," Tipton said.
Although students can use laptop computers and other electronic devices to conduct much of their research without ever entering the library, Lanham said a large number of them continue to visit this facility. He said the total number of visits by students and other patrons to the library increased from 489,384 in 1995 to 548,747 in 2011.
Lanham said the library offers a comfortable, quiet and spacious site for students to study on their own or with groups, an environment not typically available in their cramped living quarters. He said the library also provides a vast collection of materials that are not available online, as well as staff members who can help with research.
Regarding the library's electronic resources, Lanham said The Keep project was established one year ago as a digital repository for EIU-related documents and more. He said The Keep has been working on digitizing documents such as committee minutes, theater programs, and founding President Livingston Lord's papers.
Lanham said The Keep has added more than 3,000 documents so far to the academic journals and many other research materials that are available through the library's website, www.library.eiu.edu.
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