At 1:30 pm Friday, October 1, 2004, the Harvard community gathered on the steps of Widener and overflowed into Tercentenary Theatre to take part in rededicating the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library. Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, FAS Dean William C. Kirby, and HCL's Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College Nancy M. Cline offered remarks. Katherine B. Loker LHD 2000 and Nancy Cline, assisted by Dareema Jenkins '05 and Matthew Gibson '05, cut a giant ribbon wrapper around the pillars.
The rededication of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library marked the completion of an extensive, five-year renovation that upgraded the 89-year-old building's systems for another century of service. Opened in 1915, the library was a generous gift to Harvard from Eleanor Elkins Widener in memory of her son Harry. At that time, the building was considered a state-of-the-art facility, in which light and air generously circulated through the stacks. With advances in the field of preservation, light and air and the accompanying dirt and fluctuations in temperature and humidity were identified as hazardous to the life span of library materials. The need to address issues around preservation, as well as user space, security, technology, and programs and services, prompted the renovation.
The project took place in two phases. The first, referred to as the Widener Stacks Renovation (WSR), began in 1999 and was initiated with the goal of ensuring the long-term preservation and security of the collections. Heating, ventilation, air, fire detection and suppression, and security systems were upgraded in all ten stack levels. New study carrels with data jacks and improved lighting were installed. The stack ranges were refurbished and the 3.5 million books were moved, cleaned, and reshelved. With WSR also came the addition of the Phillips and Stacks reading rooms and work space, all built within the two interior light courts of the building.
The second phase of the project began in 2001 and involved the restoration of architectural features and finishes on floors D through 2, and the creation of new spaces for programmatic use. Library areas were aligned to respond to user patterns and priorities, with the busy, noisy, interactive services separated from the quiet major reading rooms.
The Widener renovation was a Faculty of Arts and Sciences/Harvard University project and was guided by two committees:
Einhorn Yaffe Prescott, Architecture and Engineering, were the architects for the project, and Lee Kennedy Company was the contractor.