To remain competitive with its peers, the Johns Hopkins University has opened a student arts center and a recreation center on its Homewood campus. Administrators upgraded campus housing and adopted wireless computer technology.
Now Hopkins is contemplating another change that could help it continue to attract the finest students and faculty: improving the 40-year-old library that is in many ways the heart and soul of the Homewood campus.
Architects hired by the university just completed a feasibility study that recommends expanding the Milton S. Eisenhower Library with a 50,000-square-foot addition south of it.
"This is the next area that we need to focus on if we want to be competitive," said Winston Tabb, dean of university libraries at Hopkins. "It's one more piece of the building block for keeping Hopkins strong."
Construction of the building would lead to a significant change in the appearance of Hopkins' Homewood campus because the Eisenhower Library is one of its most prominent buildings, visible at the crest of the sloping front lawn that marks the university's main entrance at 3400 N. Charles St.
Preliminary drawings prepared by the university's design consultants indicate that the new building could rise along the semi-circular drive that frames the lawn, known as "the beach." It would stand roughly opposite Homewood House, the 1801 mansion that has been restored as a museum.
The addition would be a free-standing building connected to the original library below ground. It would be designed to enhance the older library by providing spaces that it either does not have or does not have in sufficient quantity, including an exhibition hall, large reading rooms, storage space for special collections, spaces for students to study in small groups, an expanded cafe and a central location for the library's digital programs.
The feasibility study was conducted by Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott of Boston, one of the nation's foremost architects of academic libraries.
The architects concluded that a 50,000-square-foot building could fit on a parcel just south and east of the Eisenhower Library - an area identified for library expansion in a 2002 campus master plan by Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore.
Tabb said he has not yet asked the university's trustees for funds to build the library and does not have a firm cost estimate. But he noted that the trustees allocated funds for the feasibility study and said he hopes they will be receptive to its findings. He also said he has received seed money for the project in the form of a $100,000 pledge from a donor who is eager to see it materialize.
Named for a former Hopkins president and brother of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the library opened in 1964 to house books previously kept in Gilman Hall and elsewhere on campus.
Designed by two firms, Wrenn Lewis & Jencks and Meyer Ayers & Saint, the six-level library cost $4.5 million to build. It contains about 180,000 square feet of space, including 30 miles worth of shelves. Because such a large building was needed, the architects set four levels below ground so it wouldn't dwarf the older, smaller buildings on campus. It houses 2.6 million volumes and gets more than 1.1 million visits a year.
Tabb said he became aware of the need to improve the library shortly after he came to Hopkins two years ago from the Library of Congress.
In talking with students and faculty members, he said, he realized that while the library's design may have met Hopkins' needs in the 1960s, it's less than ideal given the way people use academic libraries these days.
For example, he said, the library has plenty of space for solitary study, including areas he likens to "a monk's cell." But many of today's courses require collaboration among students, and the library does not have enough space for group study.
In addition, Tabb said, because the 1960s building is relatively utilitarian and much of its space is underground, it does not have any spaces that he would consider particularly inspirational. He said he would like the new building to contain a high-ceilinged exhibit hall or some other celebratory space.
"Libraries are supposed to be inspiring, and ours is not," he said. "It isn't very inspiring to come to a library that sends you underground. ... Your spirit really doesn't soar."
The Eisenhower Library has been outpaced by other institutions that have updated their libraries to address contemporary patterns of research, scholarship and learning, according to the feasibility study.
"At all of Hopkins' peer institutions, significant facilities expansions have either been completed, are currently under way, or are in the master planning phase," the report states. "In order to maintain its competitive edge amongst its peers, the Eisenhower Library must also move forward."