Harvard Law School’s Langdell Hall, long the center of study for Harvard law students but well-known for its less than comfortable conditions, was renovated in 1996. The renovation was completed in less than fifteen months and the library remained open for the duration of the renovation.
The $35 million project closed all of Langdell Hall and the top of Areeda Hall from June 10, 1996, until September 2, 1997. To maintain library services for the School during this period, the second and third floors of the east wing of Pound Hall became a temporary library for the 1996-97 academic year. 35,000 of the most heavily used reference books were moved here along with 50 computer workstations.
Two-thirds of the library staff, including all technical services staff, moved to rented space in a former printing plant in East Cambridge, three miles from campus, taking with them 180,000 volumes and the bulk of the microforms collection. Despite the separation from campus, most core processing activities remained at or above normal levels, although a number of projects and certain less critical routines were deferred.
Other parts of the collection were placed in temporary storage at the Harvard Depository, joining the 345,000 volumes that permanently reside there.
The Library’s 300,000 rare books were sealed into their two-story permanent home in Langdell while demolition and construction took place all around them. This special stack area was renovated and outfitted with special temperature and humidity controls in 1980 and did not need to be reconstructed as part of the renovation project.
The renovation focused on an improved workspace for students and other users as well as better space for books. The entire building was retrofitted with central air-conditioning and a new heating system replaced the old radiators. Four spacious elevators and wider stairwells improved access through the building. Ten new rest rooms were added.
New lighting was installed throughout the building, including custom-designed table lamps with power and data outlets for laptop users. A primary goal of the renovation project was to accommodate present and future technology needs of library users. 1,158 network connections were added throughout the building and 540 data ports were installed at tables and carrels, and in lounges and study rooms. A new library subnet provided access to the Internet and to a variety of electronic information services managed by the Law Library. A 24-workstation computer lab and two six-workstation training labs were constructed. In total, 90 public computer terminals were added all with access to networked printers.
Providing a variety of seating and study spaces was another objective of the renovation project. Seventeen of the old, 18-foot long reading room tables were restored. Custom-designed carrels provided spacious workspaces on all floors; in addition to power and data, each carrel was equipped with a coat hook and a security hook for a laptop. Nine individual study rooms, three double study rooms, and three group study rooms gave us types of spaces we had not managed before. Soft seating was added on four of the six library floors, again most next to power and data outlets.
The most dramatic changes made during the renovation appeared in the Reading Room. Twenty chandeliers replaced the old dropped ceiling that was installed almost forty years ago. Removing bookcases from the windows contributed to a more open and spacious feeling in the room. Lighter paint colors added to the feeling of brightness. The Latin Inscriptions in the frieze around the center of the room were restored to their original location. Sixteen bas-relief symbols of the law that few ever noticed before were highlighted.
At the south end of the Reading Room, a refurbished Root Room provided a secure, functional yet elegant reading room for special collections, with direct access for staff by stair and elevator to the two floors of compact stacks that house the rare book collections and to the two floors of office and work space for special collections staff.
At the north end of the Reading Room, the Treasure Room, now known as the Caspersen Room, presented the most valuable pieces from the School’s Art Collection in elegant new surroundings. The Caspersen Room also serves as the main exhibit space for the Library, when not being used for special functions.
The Library entrance was moved from the fourth to the main floor of Langdell, where users also find the Circulation Desk, computer classroom, microforms, and current legal periodicals. A spacious lounge and casual reading area was added just inside the Holmes Field entrance.
The Langdell Reference Department gained more extensive space on the fourth floor of Areeda Hall, adjacent to the Reading Room. A bridge was added, connecting Areeda and the Lewis International Law Center.
Reference and administrative offices were relocated to the fifth floor, above the main Reference Desk. Technical services staff were moved to the first floor.
In general, the result of renovation has been to improve greatly the quality of Library spaces and the amount of space devoted to information technology. The number of reader seats stays at 700 but the space per reader increases. The book capacity stays at its present 500,000 volumes in Langdell open stacks but the environment is now stable and controlled. Staff space is slightly more compact than before but more efficient and comfortable. Space for computers, microforms, and multimedia increased.
The renovated Langdell provides a more comfortable environment for people and for books, quicker orientation and easier movement through the building, integrated stack and study areas, and greater seating variety with nearly every seat near a power outlet and a network connection.
A formal re-dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Saturday, October 25, 1997, in conjunction with the Law School’s Fall Reunion Weekend.