Back to School

Photo by Kevin GradyPhoto by Kevin Grady
By Jane Kamensky, Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director Professor, Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Anyone who teaches or studies knows the special energy September brings, as the leaves begin to turn and schools and campuses spring to life. At the Schlesinger, this autumn’s bounty was heightened by our return to the main Library building, now beautifully renovated and more welcoming than ever. After spending the months of construction scattered across three temporary locations as well as the Library’s permanent annex space on Concord Avenue, Schlesinger staff members eagerly made their way back to Radcliffe Yard in late August and readied to welcome researchers and classes shortly after the start of the fall semester.

The building’s transformation was well worth the wait. Invisible changes deep in our infrastructure (moving an elevator and a service staircase is not for the faint of heart) unlocked dazzling new public areas. The Lia and William Poorvu Gallery offers twice as much exhibition space as our previous gallery did, including new arenas in which to display our rich audiovisual materials and a seating nook for deeper study and reflection. The gallery’s molded wave ceiling, one of the signature gestures that Kennedy & Violich Architecture programmed into the renovation, evokes the contours of the central staircase, a notable decorative feature of the original building, and hints at the “waves” of modern feminism. On the second floor, a new seminar space will help our superb public services librarians serve up the Schlesinger’s unique materials to students at Harvard and beyond. The seminar space and the adjoining Hill Family Digital Commons are equipped with sophisticated document cameras and other technology that will enable student presentations, collaborative humanities projects, and other experiments. On the walls throughout the Library, we’ve hung materials that showcase the breadth and diversity of our collections, reminding us where we come from, revealing who we are today, and pointing toward strategic priorities in the years ahead. 

The gallery, the seminar space, the digital commons, even the sparkling new glass front entrance, embody the Library’s core commitments: to excellence, access, and transparency. A great research library is not a heap of treasure. Our collections matter most when they’re used widely and deeply, to engage new publics and to catalyze new stories that more fully and truly embody we, the people. The renovation helps to ennoble that work and to make it visible. School’s in session. Come see for yourself!

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