The original act to found the University in 1817, extensive
documents on the history of the state, curriculum plans dating back
nearly 200 years — the University was running out of space to
house such material until a 34,000-foot expansion was completed
this year that almost doubled the Bentley Historical
Library’s space, Director Francis Blouin said.

“It came in the nick of time because we had needed an
expansion for 15 years,” he said. “We were
jam-packed.”

The library, located on North Campus, houses a collection
chronicling the history of the state and the University. Most of
the construction project expanded the library’s stacks where
such materials are stored, said Amanda Carvell, a School of
Information graduate student who works for the library and uses its
materials for research.

Two-thirds of the expansion added storage space, while one-third
of the added area is workspace for researchers, including
additional meeting rooms and computer terminals.

Larry Wagenaar, director of the Historical Society of Michigan,
said the library needed the expansion.

“It’s an outstanding collection of material,”
he said. “But when you’re that full, you have to be
more critical than you ought to be when you’re archiving. You
have to turn (historical material) away that you don’t want
to.”

Shelf space was at such a premium that some materials were
stored in boxes on the floor, Carvell said.

Some materials had to be housed outside of the library.

“Now we don’t have to send people off-site to find
what they need,” Blouin said. “It allows us to
reconfigure our space, and put away some things from our collection
that we stored in the formerly cramped reading room.”

The expansion — approved in 2002 by the University’s
Board of Regents and begun in June 2003 — was completed last
week at a cost of $5.8 million. The library closed during the
summer of 2003 while workers renovated it. This summer,
construction began on an addition to the building, which was then
connected to the original building this fall.

Plans for an addition dated as far back as 1978, when benefactor
Alvin Bentley decided to sponsor the construction of more space
because she liked the library so much.

After an architect drew up potential plans, Bentley died
unexpectedly at the age of 55, before she could commit funding to
the project.

“I found the plans in a closet when I took over as
director in 1981, and we based the construction on those
designs,” Blouin said.

Financial issues prevented the project from getting off the
ground before now.

“It’s always a question of getting the right money
together to make sure the project’s done well,” Blouin
said.

The Bentley library’s collection includes 60,000 printed
volumes, 1.5 million photographs and more than 10,000 maps.

The library’s design looks toward the future, Blouin
said.

Construction is not totally complete, because 25,000 feet of
storage space in the library’s south stacks lacks shelves. A
project slated for winter 2005 will add the necessary shelves.

Construction also updated heating, ventilation and air
conditioning. A new fire detection system was added to protect the
documents.

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