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Harvard University Library Notes / September 2005 / No. 1327
Merging the Old and the New
The Baker Renovation Is Complete
Since the campus was dedicated in June 1927, the stately columns and iconic bell tower of Baker Library have served as a symbol of Harvard Business School. The library's namesake, New York banker George Fisher Baker, was the School's first benefactor. In the early 1920s, Mr. Baker delighted the School's leadership by offering the full $5 million needed to build the original campus.
Baker, a self-educated man whose son George Jr. was a member of the Harvard Class of 1899, was a highly respected businessman. Standing on the steps of the new library, the 87-year-old Baker addressed the crowd with prescience and deep emotion. "I hope and I believe that this school is to be the standard for all others," he said, and then cautioned that "the standard of excellence which must be maintained comes not simply from the outside of the buildings but from the work and training on the inside."
In the eight decades since it first opened, Baker Library has been an integral part of the HBS experience.
In 1927 it housed the world's first collection of business materials as well as the classrooms where students took their courses through the 1950s. Over the years its acquisitions expanded, and today the School's collections of rare and unusual business manuscripts are world-renowned.
While it contains materials that date back to the 15th century, the library's own history mirrors the changes of the 20th century. The library's staff and acquisition budgets were cut during the Depression, and its skylights were covered during the war years, when civilian education temporarily gave way to military instruction. For several decades students delivered their Written Analysis of Cases (WACs) to a slot on the outside of Baker, often causing a scene as the deadline neared. Since the campus was built, the historic reading room has served as a study hall to all generations of students, from those who removed their fedoras to those who silenced their cell phones. As part of a larger plan assessing the future needs of the campus, the School began in the 1990s to thoroughly examine how to update Baker Library to better serve its constituents and preserve its treasures. In particular, the cramped, un-air-conditioned stacks required attention, and the library needed to be wired for the new century.
By 2001 the research yielded an ambitious plan to redefine the building for the 21st century. The goals for the project included strengthening the intellectual community; creating a facility where faculty, students, alumni/ae, and outside scholars could come together to build knowledge; and stimulating collaboration by increasing access of the building's users to knowledge and information as well as to each other.
In the summer of 2003 the School broke ground on the revitalization of Baker Library, a massive two-year renovation and rebuilding project. While the iconic north facade of the building remains, the back half of the original Baker was torn down in order to increase space for books and offices.
Several elements of the original structure have been removed and restored—such as the cornices on the exterior—while others, including the windows, were updated with newer materials.
Campaign gifts from the charitable foundations of de Gaspe Beaubien in Montreal, E. Roe Stamps IV, MBA 1974, and Penelope W. Stamps have helped to cover the cost of the renovation and restoration of Baker Library. Additional generous support has been provided by many alumni/ae and friends, including George F. Baker III, MBA 1964. "When my great-grandfather inaugurated the School, he said he hoped HBS would set the standard for all others," noted Baker. "With this renovation, we are setting the standard for a business library for many generations to come."
Now reopened, the renovated Baker Library provides an ideal merging of the past and the future, implementing 21st-century technology and conveniences throughout while maintaining much of the look and feel of the original building, including its grand reading room. Moreover, as home to the School's vast collections of important business materials, the new academic center will be the intellectual center of the campus, a home—both physical and virtual—to a powerful community of scholars.
According to Baker Executive Director Mary Lee Kennedy, "HBS students using Baker will enter an environment that embraces traditional library materials and real-time information. It's an environment that reflects the HBS intellectual community. Our students must navigate a universe of information that can't be contained in the traditional four walls of the library. In it, Baker librarians must act as information counselors, helping students to ask—and to answer—the question, 'What is the right source for me to use at this time?'"
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