Last year, MIT’s libraries hosted more than 600,000 visits from students, faculty, alumni, and staff. More than a third of those visits were to Hayden Library, according to MIT Libraries director Chris Bourg. Now, as Bourg and staff prepare for Hayden’s partial renovation, visitors can anticipate a new kind of library experience—without saying goodbye to what brings them back again and again.
Named after 1890 alumnus Charles Hayden, the library was built in 1951 to house the Institute’s humanities and science collections. In addition to its collections, the library’s two levels of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Charles River are a popular draw for the MIT community.
I believe the combination of the windows and the impressive view across both sides of the Charles provides a unique, calming ambience unmatched anywhere else at the Institute.
“I believe the combination of the windows and the impressive view across both sides of the Charles provides a unique, calming ambience unmatched anywhere else at the Institute,” says Sidney Yip, MIT professor emeritus of nuclear science and engineering and materials science and engineering.
Much has changed over the 70 years of Hayden’s existence. Its relatively traditional design—with an information desk in the front and staff offices largely hidden—reflects a valuable, yet dated model of a library’s function at scholarly institutions, where print and text are dominant.
“While print remains important, we need to develop some new archetypes for library spaces that broaden that concept to focus on human interaction and the intersections between digital and physical objects,” says MIT Libraries deputy director Tracy Gabridge ’88.
We want libraries to be participatory, creative, playful, dynamic, and hackable.
That desire to be a more inclusive and welcoming space to the MIT community, while keeping research and learning at the center, is part of the reason Hayden Library will be undergoing a renovation of its first and second floors in 2020. “We want libraries to be participatory, creative, playful, dynamic, and hackable,” says Bourg. “The renovation will allow us to do that in a more structured and purposeful way.”
Plans for the renovation include building a café on the library’s first floor and providing a flexible teaching and event space for campus groups. Staff hope to expand both the number and variety of study spaces to accommodate more collaborative work, as well as an expanded 24/7 area—while still providing ample views of the Charles.
As Bourg explains, the renovation will make the library’s available expertise and resources much more apparent. While staff are still collecting input on how to do that, ideas include pop-up displays of Hayden’s collections and spaces to create data visualizations, hand-printed books, and virtual reality projects. “The libraries function as a lab for many of our students and faculty. We want to make those activities visible,” says Bourg, drawing a parallel to the research activities one can see through the doors and windows of labs along the Infinite Corridor.
Inspired by one of his favorite places on campus, Yip will be supporting the renovation during MIT’s 24-Hour Challenge—happening all day March 14, 2019. He has pledged to donate $100,000 if 150 fellow donors make a gift of any size to the MIT Libraries.
May the donation contribute to the resources needed to preserve this space for the benefits of the MIT community, for as long as there are people seeking a quiet space not only to work or study, but also to contemplate and recharge.
“May the donation contribute to the resources needed to preserve this space for the benefits of the MIT community, for as long as there are people seeking a quiet space not only to work or study, but also to contemplate and recharge,” says Yip.
On March 14, 2019, Pi Day: MIT Libraries is just one of dozens of MIT groups participating in microchallenges to unlock bonus gifts during the third annual MIT 24-Hour Challenge. Join us, and collaborate with MIT alumni, students, parents, and friends to fuel the future at MIT. If 6,283 MIT alumni, students, parents, and friends give to MIT on March 14, 2019, an anonymous challenger will give the Institute $314,159, fueling the future at MIT and around the world.
Featured photo: L. Barry Hetherington