Artist rendering of Ekstrom Library renovations.
Artist rendering of Ekstrom Library renovations.

Midway through each Fall or Spring semester, Ekstrom Library’s population brims to overflowing as students vie for available space, hunched over open books and papers at desks, mini-pods, lounge chairs, long tables, in conference rooms, carrels, or on a random corner of carpeted floor. With enrollment expected to rise, and on- or near-campus housing reaching capacity, Ekstrom remains the go-to study place for more and more students.

Providing upgraded study space throughout the year and particularly during peak periods is a main objective of University Libraries Dean Bob Fox, who plans to renovate Ekstrom’s third floor in the coming year, adding new seating and modernized study areas. It is a project recently awarded a $500,000 grant by University Administration, and heartily endorsed by the Student Government Association.

“UofL is on track to grow from 22,000 to 30,000 students,” said Fox. “We need to be able to support a larger university population with a high-quality library experience.

“Our footprint and square footage will not grow, so we need to make use of the space we have. We want to provide students with upgraded study areas and seating so they are supported during times when they really need space in the library. Raising the seat-to-student ratio in our central library helps UofL’s competitive edge in recruiting new students and retaining current ones.”

Reaching that goal will require relocation of some lesser-used collections to a new storage bay, which was just opened in Ekstrom Library’s Robotic Retrieval System (RRS) to free up space for seating. The expansive metal shelves will be filled with a variety of materials from Ekstrom’s third floor, along with items from Archives/Special Collections, Music and Art libraries.

For cost and efficiency reasons, the new storage bay was built adjacent to, but not part of, the RRS, which will continue to operate as before. Many visitors are aware of the RRS, with its tall steel shelving separated by glass behind Ekstrom’s west service desk, where anyone requesting an item can watch as a large mechanical arm lifts a long shelf from a long row, pivots and steadily delivers the bin to a waiting Libraries staff member. The RRS is identical to retrieval systems in auto parts retailers, warehouses or distribution centers; however, while the technology was state-of-the-art when it was first installed in 2005, it has now become somewhat dated and hence prohibitively expensive to expand. The new storage bay was completed with a much lower budget and will hold just as much as another RRS bay.

Currently, the Libraries are working with a strong donor base to raise funds for the third floor renovation. JRA Architects, hired for the recent renovation of Ekstrom’s First Floor East, has been chosen to design the project, which is currently estimated to total $3.5 to 4 million. Renderings of potential uses of the space reveal expansive study areas with open floor plans, ample natural light and a potential reading room in the Writing Center’s old offices. The Libraries will share future renderings as programming further defines the final design.