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Bancroft Library circa 1973 Friends of the Bancroft Library gathered for a rededication ceremony in 1973

Bancroft Library kicks off renovation campaign

– Plans to repair and renovate the University of California, Berkeley's 50-year-old Bancroft Library have received a big boost, thanks to a $750,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and an anonymous $5 million gift.

Charles Faulhaber, the James D. Hart Director of The Bancroft Library, said the grant announced on Dec. 10 brings total revenues raised and pledged for the upgrade project to $12.5 million, more than half of the estimated $20 million needed.

The library is home to treasures including records of the Donner Party, original manuscripts of Joan Didion, the archives of John C. Fremont and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, fragments of a lost play of Sophocles, the university's archives, the Mark Twain Papers, and the Regional Oral History Office. The Bancroft is one of the most heavily used, special materials collections in the United States. Its core is the Western Americana Collection started by San Francisco bookseller Hubert Howe Bancroft in 1860 and purchased by UC Berkeley in 1905.

The Bancroft Library's collection of more than 500,000 books, 50 million documents, 3.5 million photographs, maps, paintings, photos, diaries and other items serves as a valuable resource to researchers from around the world. Half of those who use the collection are students.

The library - located in cramped and antiquated space in the Doe Library Annex west of the Campanile - will coordinate these renovation efforts with a $17 million seismic upgrade financed by state Proposition 47, approved by voters in 2002. Shear walls must be added throughout the building, constructed in 1949, to bring it up to current seismic codes and move it from a "poor" seismic safety rating to "good."

Moving library operations from its four-story building, attic and basement levels to temporary quarters will add approximately $4 million to the project budget, an expense that will be covered by the university.

Work is slated to begin in June 2005 and take approximately 18 months. Library officials hope to return to the renovated building by December 2006, in time to celebrate the centennial of the library's arrival on the UC Berkeley campus.

When the project is complete, Faulhaber said, the library not only will be safer, but also will feature more exhibit, classroom, reading room and storage space. In addition, it will include ramps for the disabled, and more publicly accessible stairs and elevators.

The computer network is insufficient to support some contemporary tasks and must be upgraded, Faulhaber said, and the pages of a 100-year-old book can crumble when turned if stored without temperature controls. Collections will be concentrated on the three floors below ground level, and the entire building will be equipped with state-of-the art climate control and security systems.

"We simply must provide adequate security and protection for the collections, and reconfigure the library to improve conditions for library users," said Faulhaber. "There are 42 doors between this building and the next. It's a security nightmare."

Elaine Tennant, a UC Berkeley professor of German since 1977, said she brings undergraduate and graduate students to The Bancroft Library every semester.

"It's a point of pride with me not to let the classes I teach leave Berkeley without having had a chance to learn something about the Bancroft collections," she said. "I want them to have an opportunity to work with these treasures that are a part of this wonderful, publicly accessible collection that belongs to the citizens of California and the nation."

Many UC Berkeley students, who go on to research careers across the country, Tennant said, "have their first encounters with authentic cultural artifacts and original primary texts - such as the diaries of pioneer women in the American West or the polemical pamphlets of Martin Luther - in the Bancroft Reading Room.

The Bancroft Library is not a museum; it is one of the most dynamic teaching centers on the Berkeley campus."

Paul "Pete" Bancroft III said he is proud of the library begun by his great-grandfather and pleased with plans for improvements.

"I really look upon the library as a tremendous resource for the university, and the western world," said Bancroft, a major donor to The Bancroft Library and a member of the campaign leadership committee for the library.