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Posted on Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

$16.8M renovation to U-M's 90-year-old Clements Library begins

By Amy Biolchini


The University of Michigan's William L. Clement's Library's Avenir Foundation room.

Courtney Sacco I

Nearly 90 years after it was built, the University of Michigan's historic William L. Clements Library is finally about to enter the 21st century.

The university has dedicated $10 million of its money and $6.8 million in donations to a two-year renovation project of the building on U-M’s central campus tucked behind the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library and next to the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.

The Clements Library, built in 1923 and designed by Albert Kahn, houses a large collection of books and documents on American history prior to 1900.

Though much of the renovation won’t be visible from outside, researchers will have a much different experience inside: The historic, rarely used great room will be converted into a reading room.


Researchers work in the Clements Library's reading room in the basement of the building, Thursday, August 1.

Courtney Sacco I

In its present arrangement, researchers review documents in a small room in the library’s basement, which is lined with card catalogs and curator’s offices.

About 15 people can fit around the small tables in the room -- but they don’t have much room to spread out their research materials, said Ann Rock, development director for the library.

With wood paneling, tall windows and chandeliers, the great room will be able to accommodate many more researchers on larger tables that will be equipped with new lamps. Lining the room are built-in bookshelves that house part of the collections.

The great room is used fewer than five days per month for events like lectures, special exhibits and receptions, Rock said.

Moving the reading room from the basement to the great room is a part of a shifting attitude by Clements Library administrators to bring in more people to the building.

Rock called it a “changing culture” at the library: “We’re really opening the doors to show people what we have,” she said.

Among those documents are the first letter written by Christopher Columbus, and all of George Washington’s medical records.


The University of Michigan's The William L. Clements Library located at 909 South University Ave in Ann Arbor.

Courtney Sacco I

Rock attributed the change to the library’s director, J. Kevin Graffagnino, who has held that position for about 4.5 years.

The biggest physical expansion of space for the library will be a 3,000-square-foot basement addition that will add space for mechanical equipment. A part of the expansion will also be used to house shelves of books - and will give the library room to grow its collections.

The underground addition will be barely visible from the outside, as the area above the new addition will likely be covered with landscaping.

Electrical wiring will be upgraded, as will the wireless internet capabilities in the building to handle more computers.

The entire building will also be equipped with a fire suppression system and security cameras will be installed, Rock said. Heating and cooling systems will also be replaced to give curators more control over the climate inside the building to protect the collections of old books.

The library closed to the public in July. During the two years that the library will be closed for the renovations, most of the collection will be available for review at a facility at 1580 Ellsworth Road in Ann Arbor.

Staff will begin moving the collections in August, and the Ellsworth Road facility will open to researchers Oct. 1.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Amy Biolchini

Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 4:53 p.m.

Not all of the documents in Clements Library are even listed in an electronic records system -- for some of them, the only record the library has on file is still in a card catalog. During the two years part of the collections will be at the Ellsworth facility, Ann Rock said library staff will continue the process to file electronic records for the documents -- but there will likely still be unlisted documents, she said.


Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

Sounds like an excellent project for the School of Information's digital archiving students.


Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 3:29 p.m.

If ever you chance on a talkative Mason, bring him on a walk through this building


Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

Lots of symbolism?

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

Another formica renovation?

Jack Manning

Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

There will be no libraries pretty soon......this project is a waste of money. Right now even Book Stores are going out of business. Why spend all that money when the entire library can go digital.

Gene Alloway

Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 8:55 p.m.

Ther eexists a common modern ailment (esp. in universities), called digitus uberallis. It weakens the ability to understand how manuscripts and older material are actually used by historians and researchers, and expresses itself in a marked aversion to actual printed materials. A good comparison might be police work. Why don't police/FBI folks just take digital pictures of things, and use those as evidence? Because the actual materials tell them a lot more about the events, activities, people, etc. While perhaps less dramatic, actual printed, manuscript, and binding materials can do the same thing in the hands of smart, well trained historians and researchers.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

The Clements is a manuscript library. Even if your prediction were true (I doubt it is) about book libraries, for various reasons the manuscripts in libraries such as the Clements will not be digitized and, even in those cases where they are, there is no substitute for seeing those documents first-hand. It is VERY difficult to make out handwriting in digitized documents.

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 3:20 p.m.

Newflash: people still use libraries. They are busy.

Gene Alloway

Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

I should have said actual printed and manuscript materials, as well as bindings.

Linda Peck

Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

It is a beautiful building! I am sure these changes will increase the traffic. It has always been empty when I have visited.


Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

I'm remembering Professor Burt Hornback dressing as his hero, Charles Dickens, and reading to a large group in that room. I think he used to do that at Christmastime?


Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 11:57 a.m.

Good news. Ah, those were the days when architects had vision and originality; now we get so many visual polluters working on the cheap . Of course, the people with the money had ambitions and not just the bottom lie in mind. Times change ...