Here we come a-carreling

Last spring it was chairs. This spring it’s carrels. Once again the Regenstein Library staff is asking its clientele to weigh in on a major refurbishing decision: the first new study carrels since the Reg opened in 1971.

Make no mistake: at an estimated cost of $1.05 million, it’s a big-ticket item. The figure doesn’t include the cost of removing and disposing of the existing carrels, installing new electrical outlets for them, and repairing and refinishing the library’s 213 wooden study tables. The Reg requested funds for all these projects from the University’s capital-projects budget last fall, and officials hope at least part of the requested funding—enough to renovate an initial floor, say—will come through this June.

After all, the 500 original carrels are coming apart at their aging seams. And built in a pre-computer era, they don’t have the electrical outlets today’s laptop users crave. Enter design consultant Cecelia Mitchell. Starting with comments from a student focus group, Mitchell worked with Chicago-based Agati Furniture to develop a 21st-century carrel. The resulting prototypes—one in drab white, one in drab gray—are on display near the Reg’s main entrance through Friday, May 4.

As facilities manager John Pitcher, AB'73, AM'76, points out, asking for feedback at Chicago guarantees plenty of critical thinking. And, if the first day’s comments prove a guide, says Jim Vaughan, the Reg’s assistant director of access and facilities services, user reaction is mixed.

Some students gave thumbs up to the model’s larger work surface, overhead light, shelf, and general openness. Others found the work surface too narrow, the light too harsh, the shelf too low, and the openness too open. So the Reg will likely go back to the drawing board, creating another prototype for further testing. “Because these will have to last for 30 years," Vaughan says, “we want to get them right.”


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Photos (left to right): Student reviews of the model carrels range from raves to pans to diagrammed suggestions for improvement; College second-year Gwen Moores worries that the built-in light's position might cause laptop glare; Antonio Sotomayor-Carlo, a doctoral student in history, checks out an under-the-table bump.

Photos by Dan Dry.

May 2, 2007