UC Berkeley News


Bancroft Library kicks off renovation campaign
Enhancing the collection’s usability and security are among the project’s goals

| 21 January 2004


Artist’s rendering of the exterior of the renovated Bancroft Library. Not visible in this view is a ramp for visitors with disabilities.

Plans to repair and renovate the 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 in December, brings total revenues raised and pledged for the upgrade project to $12.5 million, more than half of the estimated $20 million needed.

The Bancroft houses a wealth of special materials, many but not all relating to the history of the western United States. In addition to Berkeley’s archives, its treasures include records of the Donner Party, original manuscripts of Joan Didion, the archives of John Fremont and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, fragments of a lost play of Sophocles, the Mark Twain Papers, and the holdings of the Regional Oral History Office. Its core is the Western Americana Collection started by San Francisco bookseller Hubert Howe Bancroft in 1860 and purchased by the campus in 1905.

The Bancroft Library’s collection of more than 500,000 books, 50 million documents, and 3.5 million other items (including photographs, maps, paintings, and diaries), 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 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 the four-story library’s operations to temporary quarters will add approximately $4 million to the project budget, an expense that will be covered by the university.

Work, slated to begin in June 2005, will 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 opening on the Berkeley campus.

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

The library’s 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 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.”