Newberry Library to undergo $11 million renovation

Sunday, 02 July 2017, 01:19:43 AM. The project will encompass 26,000-square-feet of the library's first floor.

Chicago’s Newberry Library will be getting a new look thanks to an $11 million renovation project planned for the cultural institution’s first floor.

The project, spanning 26,000 square feet of public space, and which is already 40 percent funded through donor contributions, will begin January 2018 and is expected to take six months to complete.

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An artist’s rendering of the Newberry Library’s proposed renovation of the lobby. | COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY

“The renovation is predicated on the recognition that the ways in which researchers and the public experience cultural institutions has changed dramatically,” said Alex Teller, the Newberry’s director of communications and public services. “People don’t want to just come into a library or museum and be the passive recipient of knowledge. They want to actively participate in the intellectual life of an institution. A big part of the renovation is creating new and redesigned spaces that help to foster new connections among our visitors, our staff and our collections. We’re planning to enhance our services and build upon them and turn our first floor into much more of a destination.”

The redesign will include a new permanent gallery space adjacent to temporary exhibits spaces, a larger bookstore with adjoining coffee lounge, a new information center and the addition of wall-mounted digital signage and public work stations. Ruggles Hall, used primarily for lectures and  weddings, also will be refurbished as part of the project. Since the Newberry is housed in an historic landmark building at 60 W. Walton, the exterior and vestibule work had to be approved the Landmark Commission.

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An artist’s rendering of the Newberry Library’s new first-floor information center. | COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY

“A major aspect of what we will do is refurbish the original architectural details [such as marble work in the lobby and restoring the mosaic tile floor] and restoring some details that were purged in the 1950s as part of the last [major] renovation of the lobby. Marble wainscoting will be restored and we will reintroduce color to the walls as well,” Teller said.

The renovation design was created by the Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, a firm renown for its work with library and other academic institutions and on historically significant buildings. Past projects include the Music Building at the University of Pennsylvania and the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut.

For the uninitiated, the Newberry is an independent research library and home to “a world-class collection of historical maps, documents and papers,” Teller added. “The library has been preserving and providing access to these documents, including a collection of more than 600,000 maps to scholars, researchers and the public since 1887. Our collections primarily focus on the Americas, American Indian history and indigenous study, the history of Chicago and the Midwest, and Europe from the Renaissance through the early 20th century. Our collections of personal papers includes those of Chicago journalists such as Ben Hecht and Mike Royko.”

Among the library’s most prized collections are copies of Thomas Jefferson’s Federalist papers, complete with his personal annotations, the only Chicago copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, and letters belonging to Alexander Hamilton. It is also a major center for genealogy research.

And booklovers need not worry —  Teller said the renovation will be completed well ahead of the 2018 Newberry Library Book Fair, the annual sale featuring more than 100,000 used books, vinyl records, DVDs, CDs and collectibles.

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A permanent gallery on the first floor of the Newberry Library is depicted in this artist’s rendering. | COURTESY NEWBERRY LIBRARY

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