FeaturesA Glorious Space
The sun-filled Dimond Library has suddenly become the place to be
By Meg Torbert
Photographs by Michael Warren '83
Few alumni have fond memories of the old Dimond Library. Or so it seems, from a collection of anecdotes received in a recent highly unscientific e-mail poll of UNH alumni. They recall the library as a bleak and noisy place with a "dark, scary stairwell," a.k.a. "the stairway to hell." The infamous striped carpet is "burned into the memory" of one alumna, while another describes it as "someone's bad trip." "The heat would zone me out," complains one graduate, and yet others are even less kind: Dimond was simply "a total disaster" and "a place to be avoided at all costs."
Even the librarians remember it as "hideous" and "a fortress."
So when Dimond Library reopened last Aug. 31 for the first time after a year and a half and $19 million worth of renovations and additions, the new facility was welcomed with open arms.
Gone was the gloomy wormhole entrance, replaced with a soaring atrium. Cramped book stacks and Formica tables gave way to spacious reading rooms with lofty vaulted ceilings and tall windows, and comfy nooks furnished with couches and armchairs.
The new Dimond is "truly, as the ancient Greeks described libraries, 'a cure for the soul,'" says President Joan Leitzel.
Transforming the old library took time and money, as well as 750,000 pounds of steel and 20,000 yards of new carpeting. But it also took something less tangible. For more than three years before the first sledge hammer bit drywall, planning committees of faculty, staff and architects spent hundreds of hours not only poring over blueprints, but also wrestling with the question of how to design a library that would, in the words of architect David Zenk, "acknowledge the aspirations of people."
Some of the planning decisions that emerged in recent conversations included the following considerations:
1. Nothing was sacred
"We had an advantage in that the old library was so hideous," says Deanna Wood, a library associate professor who chaired the 13-member building and renovation committee that labored over the great and small details of the library project. Although cost constraints meant the old library's framework would have to be reused, no one made a case for saving, say, a favorite room, and the architects had a nearly blank slate with which to work. Wood says some people claim they're nostalgic for the old carpet, with its eye-popping stripes of orange and red, and black and brown. "I have a square of the old carpet, and I've offered it to the 20 or so people who say they miss it, but not one of them has taken me up on it," she reports.
Also scrapped was the old library's inconsistent floor plan. The new plan organizes the collection logically, and even puts copy machines and restrooms in the same location on each floor. As a result, "there's not a single book or person in the same place it was before," says University Librarian Claudia Morner. Faculty who complain they can't find their way around are advised to forget all about the old library's layout. Tom Foxall, professor of animal and nutritional sciences, says while finding a book in the old library "was like going on safari," he also got lost in the new library at first.
2. Let the sun shine in
"People like light, books don't," says Morner. Reading rooms and offices were set at the outer edges, where light could stream in through large windows. "The people spaces are like a doughnut, and the doughnut hole is where the books are," explains Zenk, the project captain from Graham Gund Architects, Inc., the Cambridge, Mass., firm that designed the new facility.
Additions on the north and east allowed for high-ceilinged study areas. "This is the 19th-century idea of a reading room," Morner explains as she stands in the rustling hush of students leafing through books and taking notes in the Addison Reading Room. Zenk calls the reading rooms "grand spaces" that help define the hierarchy of the library—people at study first, book stacks second.
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