OWHL Re-Opening: Year-Long Renovation Incorporates Student Suggestions

The renovation features an expanded basement and a new interactive data visualization wall.

Swarms of students gathered outside the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library just before 6:00 p.m. on September 4. Within minutes, the doors of the library swung open to welcome in students for the first time since the 2017-18 school year, marking the completion of the OWHL’s first full renovation in over thirty years.

The construction on the library began in July 2018, after Andover undertook a design process that sought to incorporate student opinion. Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, Information, and Library Services, emphasized the importance of keeping these voices in mind.

“Every building project, I believe, starts with a concept plan. It goes to the Trustees for approval, and really nothing gets built without their support. But once that support is granted, it goes into a design phase where we’re talking to students about what they need in a library or what they need in any building. That’s what we tried to do here—really listen to what students want and then build it to what they need. This was built for them, for you. I mean that full-heartedly,” said Barker.

Derek Curtis, Programming and Digital Content Producer, is excited for the new collaborative opportunities that the renovated OWHL will provide.

“I think the old library served a lot of good needs. We were able to do a lot of things there. Students liked it for a number of different reasons, but it was kind of tapped out as a space. It was limited as a space for students to get together to do group studying, to make some more dynamic collaborations happen between students and between faculty, staff, and students. This space provides a lot more opportunities for that,” said Curtis.

Sima Shmuylovich ’21 looks forward to the social aspects of the OWHL. Shmuylovich recalls its centrality in helping her make new friends as a Junior.

“I’m not a day student, so I can’t really speak on behalf of them, but I have friends who are…, and I think it’s definitely going to be a lot more comfortable for them this year because I know last year a lot of them would go to [Paresky Commons] and sit there, and it wasn’t the best or the most comfortable because they would get kicked out late at night. I also think it’s easier because people won’t go back to their dorms where not everyone can get into. I think it will improve friendships.,” said Shmuylovich.

While Barker acknowledged the social component of the library, he also highlighted the abundance of new study spaces to enhance productivity.

“I think the social part is important, and it’s part of student life, and it’s part of the identity of the building. We didn’t want to lose any of that with this, but we did want to create some spaces where work could get done alongside that social [life],” said Barker.

When Robert Perry, Library Proctor, stepped foot in the newly renovated library, his first destination was the Garver Room. Perry expressed his admiration for both the preserved and brand new aspects of the OWHL.

“I went immediately to the Garver Room to make sure it was intact, and in fact, it was even more beautiful than it used to be. That was my first look… [The library is] magnificent. I loved the old one, but it did need tons of work. Of course, the big improvement is downstairs: [The Nest] and carpentry shop,” said Perry.

Melanie Cheung ’20 echoed Perry’s sentiments about the preservation of the internal structure and the finer details of the Freeman and Garver Rooms.

“I really enjoy how it still feels like the old library. I was really worried that all of it was going to be changed and it was going to be like, literally, glass walls everywhere. But, all of the back rooms with all the really, really gorgeous wood carvings and ceilings and stuff… I love how those have stayed the same,” said Cheung.

During his first days on campus, Trevor Moss ’23 spent a lot of his time in The Nest. Moss is excited to take further advantage of the library’s new facilities.

“I think The [Nest] is a great opportunity for students to be able to make whatever they want. There’s classes that you can take to train you in laser cutting, 3-D-printing, and using the [computer numerical control] machine, and it’s truly incredible. I’ve never been in a facility like this, and it’s just a great opportunity, and I love it. I come down here a lot,” said Moss.

Barker sees the new library as an outlet for the collective ingenuity of campus. He hopes that each student will find some aspect of the library that makes it feel like their own.

“I think of this whole project as an investment in student creativity and the imagination and being able to do things well beyond the curriculum, so I’m really excited for a space like this. But I’m also excited to have Garver back and not be in [Paresky Commons], and have the kids that really loved Garver be able to find their home there. I think the library now has space for every type of kid. Hopefully it does. It’s pretty dynamic in that way,” said Barker.

As part of the grand re-opening, the OWHL staff invited students to donate a copy of their favorite book to become part of the “Finis Origine Pendet” collection. Curtis described the two-fold purpose of the initiative.

“A broader goal this year is to encourage leisure reading. There’s been studies finding that leisure reading—fiction reading, is good for human beings. And I think we’re wanting to jumpstart it in a number of different ways. It’s also a sign that you’re involved in reading and want to contribute to the community. I’d say those are the two main gains that we’re hoping for,” said Curtis.

As the Andover community acclimates to the new library, Perry’s hope for the students is simple.

“I hope you come here and feel like it’s home. That’s our goal,” said Perry.