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October 09, 2007

No More Reading (Room): Study Space To Close For Renovations

By Nate Kurtis

Last Tuesday, Dean Caminker announced in a 12:51 a.m. e-mail message to the Law School community that the Reading Room will be closed for renovations beginning after exams this term. Renovations to the lights in the Reading Room, which are part of a larger plan to update the lighting and wiring in the Law School, will “improve energy efficiency, brightness and evenness,” according to Dean Caminker. The fifty-foot vaulted cathedral ceiling will also be restored, and the study tables will be refinished.

“The lighting in the Reading Room is in desperate need of renovation,” said Hadi Husain, 3L and LSSS President. “If you compare our Reading Room to that of peer institutions –Yale’s reading room is similar— you can see the need for refurbishment. Of course, none of this would be possible without the incredibly generous gift from Mr. Munger,” added Husain.

Charlie Munger, a founder of the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, gave $3 million for the renovations. Mr. Munger was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan for a year and a half before he was drafted into World War II.

In an e-mailed response to questions on the renovation, Dean Caminker noted that “[t]he idea of upgrading the lighting (and the accompanying electrical infrastructure) was Charlie Munger’s. In his words, he likes ‘fixing things that are broken and that no one else will fix.’ Well, the lighting is ‘broken’ in the sense that it is not very functional and is energy inefficient and relies on decaying wiring, and no one else is likely to come along with an interest in investing in our infrastructure. So the lighting project fits nicely his description of his philanthropic interests.”

During the planned renovations, the Reading Room will be closed to studiers and unnecessary foot traffic, though professor offices and the elevators will remain open. Law Students will be able to study in the Smith Addition, the underground part of the Law Library, which will remain open until the Reading Room’s normal 2 a.m. closing time, according to Law Library Director Margaret Leary. Ms. Leary believes that there will be enough space in the underground Law Library to accommodate students who wish to study. While the Reading Room is open to the public to use, the Smith Addition will remain off limits to non-law students.

Student reaction to the announced closing of this popular study space has been mixed. “I’m disappointed,” said Emily Breuker, a second-year MBA who came to study in the Reading Room last Friday for sentimental reasons after learning about the planned closing. She added, “[The Reading Room] feels much more academic than the Business School library, which is tables and very florescent lights and is not always quiet, and so I feel more intelligent when I’m in here.” Mitchell Crispell, a Freshman in LS&A, explained, “I like how there is an expectation of silence, and it is very beautiful. If I want to look up, it’s very pretty.”

Sehar Siddiqi, 3L, goes to the Reading Room to study between classes. She notes, “It’s actually just more convenient. You don’t have to walk all the way down and find a quiet space. . . . Here, you just grab a table and work and it’s easy. During the day, the lighting here is pretty good, so it’s useful.” Siddiqi adds: “I’m not sure, seat-wise, how [everyone studying in the Smith Addition is] going to work out because, while it appears that there are a lot of carrels, at least on Sub-2 quite a few of them belong to my journal. . . . On Sub-3 a lot of those carrels are reserved for journal work as well, so my biggest concern is seating. Maybe not on a daily basis, but there will be crunch times when it will be hard [to find a seat].”

The Reading Room is not only used for studying. This jewel of the Law Quad, which was ranked 94th in a recent American Institute of Architects survey of the best-loved American architecture (See “Law School Is Not A Beauty Contest … Or Is It?” in the February 20, 2007 issue of the RG), is featured on admissions tours of the Law School and is the site of at least one event each Preview Weekend. “I predict nothing less than the decline and fall of Western civilization as a result of the cleaning of the lamps in the Reading Room,” cautioned Sarah Zearfoss, Dean of Admissions, sarcastically. Dean Zearfoss went on to explain that she does not “think the cleaning of the Reading Room lamps will affect either [admissions] yield or our ranking. Last time I checked, USNWR had taken the lumens per wattage category out of its calculus. The Admissions Office staff, being rather clever, will re-route the tour so that we don’t actually have to wear hard hats--and we have already planned something new for Preview [Weekend]. Finally, because every single member of our community is as charming and engaging as the Reading Room is beautiful, I think we will be able to make up for the temporary loss of the space.”

The Reading Room was chosen as the first step in this infrastructure upgrade because the work in that space will take the most time. The renovations will then continue into Hutchins Hall and the 9th floor of Legal Research, where work is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2008. At present, there are no plans to update the wiring or lighting of any classrooms as part of this project.

“On the whole,” concluded Dean Zearfoss, “I think a one-semester cleaning and upgrade once a century is a fairly small inconvenience.”