A Building Refreshed

Upgrades expand Schlesinger Library’s commitment to students, researchers, exhibitions.
The new Lia and William Poorvu Gallery offers twice as much exhibition space as before, along with expanded audiovisual capabilities. Photo by Kevin GradyThe new Lia and William Poorvu Gallery offers twice as much exhibition space as before, along with expanded audiovisual capabilities. Photo by Kevin Grady

It’s generally understood that library technologies and plans have, pardon the pun, a shelf life of about 15 years. The local experience aligns with the conventional wisdom. In the years since the Library last saw major work, in 2003, programmatic and outreach priorities have continued to evolve, demanding a new set of improvements. So, right on schedule, the Library was due for a refresh last year.

“From the perspective of someone who worked on both renovations, the 2003 renovation resolved major goals of elevating the reading room and creating a more cohesive building layout,” says Kate Loosian, the facilities management project manager. “But the gallery was not a central priority in that renovation, and there was no need for a dedicated classroom space at that time.”

The most dramatic changes support these programmatic shifts, including an expanded gallery—renamed the Lia and William Poorvu Gallery—and a seminar space, both of which are supported by state-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities. Additionally, the relocation of pedagogic activities to the same floor as the Carol K. Pforzheimer Reading Room means that the Library can boost both staff efficiency and the safety of the collections.

Moreover, Radcliffe’s commitment to dynamic engagement with the surrounding community as well as Harvard students and faculty members is evident in these improvements—from the spacious new layout to the dedicated teaching space. The refreshed Schlesinger Library welcomes you!


Photo by Kevin GradyPhoto by Kevin Grady

“The renovated gallery is bright and open—the walls, cases, and sophisticated audiovisual capabilities showcase archival materials with a contemporary feel. Items that date as far back as the 18th century feel relevant to our current moment. It’s a delight to design exhibitions that reach into the past to reveal our present.”
Meg Rotzel, arts program manager


 The Library's second floor under construction. The hole in the floor at left marks the old elevator shaft. Photo by Kevin GradyThe Library's second floor under construction. The hole in the floor at left marks the old elevator shaft. Photo by Kevin Grady

“Sorting through the original 1903 construction drawings, we found that the Schlesinger’s original ‘bones’ had been lost through a series of major renovations over the years. By displacing the central elevator and stair core—which was no easy task—the building has now been opened up to increase natural daylight and the Schlesinger’s original sense of spaciousness.”
J. Frano Violich, principal, Kennedy & Violich Architecture


 The refreshed foyer and reception desk welcome visitors. Photo by Kevin GradyThe refreshed foyer and reception desk welcome visitors. Photo by Kevin Grady

“The new entrance is a great improvement! It’s so much more welcoming and bright, and visitors have complimented the marble at the reception desk.”
Laurie Ellis, staff assistant, who has long greeted guests at the reception desk


 The new seminar area can host classes of varying sizes. Photo by Kevin GradyThe new seminar area can host classes of varying sizes. Photo by Kevin Grady

“Teaching with our collections is such an effective way of creating an appetite for original research among undergraduates who may never have used special collections. Having a dedicated teaching space with display screens, a document camera, and flexible furniture for small-group work really is transformative in allowing us to provide creative, experiential learning opportunities for students.”
Tamar Gonen Brown, research librarian, who has been leading classes in the new seminar space


 Jennifer Gotwals and Maryl?ne Altieri confer in the third-floor processing space. Photo by Kevin GradyJennifer Gotwals and Maryl?ne Altieri confer in the third-floor processing space. Photo by Kevin Grady

“The renovated third-floor archival processing space is expansive and has communal tables for unpacking new materials, working collaboratively with other staff, and processing large collections. Each archivist has their own work space as well as access to shared tables and extensive shelving. We expect the space will facilitate shared work and allow for large-scale projects to be undertaken on-site. It also has wonderful natural light.”
Jennifer Gotwals, lead archivist


 The reconfigured entry to the Carol K. Pforzheimer Reading Room also offers a glassed-off private consultation space, seen at far right. Photo by Kevin GradyThe reconfigured entry to the Carol K. Pforzheimer Reading Room also offers a glassed-off private consultation space, seen at far right. Photo by Kevin Grady

“A recent visitor noted experiencing a moment of delight when they approached an older historic building but walked into a bright, modern, and energetic space. After holding research consultations with a variety of Harvard undergraduates and others, the new consultation space beside the reference desk has been one of my favorite additions. It allows for more-private conversation with researchers than we could have had previously, which can encourage an unfettered flow of questions and discussion.”
Jennifer Fauxsmith, research librarian

Search Year: 
2019