New dynamic study space opens at Harper Library

When students walk into the revamped and renamed Harper Memorial Library Commons, they will notice a lot has changed over the summer.

"We are excited to introduce Harper Memorial Library Commons as a redesigned 24-hour study and group collaboration space," said Bill Michel, Associate Dean of the College and Assistant Vice-President for Student Life. "We have worked with students throughout the process of redesigning the use of the space and have built on the historic iconic nature of the space while creating a new center where students can come together and learn from each other."

The Harper Memorial Library Commons occupies the third floors of the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library building and the Harold Leonard Stuart Hall, and is accessible through Harper East and West Towers.

The Commons fills a campus need for a mixed-use study space, with quiet study in Harper Memorial Library and group and collaborative study in Stuart Hall. It joins the A-level at Joseph Regenstein Library in offering all-night study.

The updated space creates a community setting featuring the only late-night café on campus, Common Knowledge, open until 1 a.m. most nights. The area also features a College library resource desk, computers, and access to the College Core Tutoring Program and Writing Program.

"The space really embraces the needs of college students," said Suzanna Adatto, Project Development Metcalf Intern in charge of the Library's programmatic redesign and a fourth-year in the College. "It provides a comfortable, enjoyable space to study that students will remember fondly after they graduate. The redesign combines Harper's historic backbone with a more student-accessible space."

With the opening of the new South Campus Residence Hall across the Midway, the library also provides student residents a nearby place to study.

"The timing could not be better," said Katie Callow-Wright, Director of Undergraduate Student Housing. "As the College is launching this Harper Commons project and really wanting to create something new and exciting, we have this new residence hall on South Campus, a block away. We really think they have an opportunity to feed off one another."

The books that were once housed at Harper have been moved to Regenstein, and in their place are displays of student artwork and photography, and historic photos celebrating the past of the Library and the College. This year the College also will be soliciting suggestions of titles to be included in a new non-circulating collection of books that will complement student work in the Common Core.

Also, thanks to the generous family of a former Assistant Vice-President for Public Affairs, "Al Weisman's Corner" in Harper Memorial Library provides a comfortable place to relax with more than 100 different periodicals.

The redesign is an important first step toward a planned $20 million renovation of the space. In this interim, student feedback and usage patterns will be closely monitored to provide the best possible learning space.

The Commons is working closely with the University of Chicago Police Department to maintain security in and around the building and student thoroughfares.

More information about Harper Memorial Library Commons can be found at

-Sarah Galer



Third-year Tara Chandra gets sprinkles on her ice cream at the Common Knowledge café in the newly renovated Harper Memorial Library Commons. Students were celebrating the opening of the new café and study space created over the summer months.

Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

A place to meet up with friends for coffee, a space to engage in group study sessions or just a quiet spot to catch up on reading assignments, the mixed-use Harper Memorial Library Commons provides students with the right amenities to fill those needs—and it stays open late.

Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

Fourth-year Leticia Risa (seated at left) and second-year Victoria Camara (seated at right) visit with friends at the opening celebration of the Harper Memorial Library Commons. Many of the students in the College who assisted with Orientation Week gathered at the new space with members of the incoming Class of 2013.

Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

Common Knowledge in the new Harper Memorial Library Commons joins other student-run cafés on campus. The Commons, like the A-level in the Joseph Regenstein Library, serves late-night study needs.

Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

A look from above of Harper Memorial Library before its recent renovation.

Photo by Avi Schwab

The 1980s design of Stuart Reading Room featured soft seating for students.

Photo by Special Collections Research Center/University of Chicago

The original layout of Stuart Reading Room.

Photo by Special Collections Research Center/University of Chicago

A photo dated 1911 shows horse-drawn vehicles helping lay the groundwork for the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library.

Photo by Special Collections Research Center/University of Chicago

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Wen Huang
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News Office, University Communications

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