Is it time for a new library?
Morris Library is showing its age and lack of maintenance. The infrastructure is failing and flooding occurred several times this year alone. Now, people are wondering if it’s time for a new library.
The library was built in 1963, the library has undergone one major renovation since its original construction, according to Shelly McCoy, the associate university librarian for communication and space planning. That renovation occurred in 1986 and extended the library closer to South College Avenue. Since then, smaller renovations have been made.
“Although visual inspections happen, things can be missed or can quickly deteriorate,” she said.
Recently, Morris Library was forced to close on three occasions.
Last November, the library had to partially close due to flooding in the basement. The standing water caused damage to the Writing Center, a staff room and the Student Multimedia Design Center.
Corrosion of an insulated water tank caused the flood.
The library closed again this February because of another round of flooding. This time the cause was an overworked sump pump. Bad weather was somewhat to blame in this second incident.
“The water table here in Delaware is very high,” McCoy said. “There’s nowhere for the water to drain so the ground just became oversaturated and the sump pump couldn’t handle the flow.”
The water table is the limit to the amount of water that the ground can absorb. When the water table reaches its capacity, adding more water will lead to flooding.
Earlier this month, the library was forced to close early due to a broken sewer pipe.
McCoy said the pipes that connect to Morris Library are part of the main system in Newark. A slowly building backup in the Newark system caused a corroded cast iron pipe under the library to burst due to the pressure. This was the third round of flooding. The pipe was repaired within 24 hours, but the university is still inspecting similar pipes nearby, McCoy said.
McCoy said deferred maintenance caused many of the recent issues. The building is old and requires significant infrastructure care to keep it running. She said that Campus Facilities estimated it would cost $45 million to deal with the deferred maintenance on the library.
“The library is the building in third-worst shape, according to Campus Facilities,” McCoy said. “It’s third on the list after McKinly and Drake.”
McKinly Lab was damaged in 2017 by a fire caused by stray sparks from a reciprocating saw while doing renovations in the basement. Last fall, a chemical explosion in Drake Hall injured two students. The explosion happened during an experiment, and the age of the building had no role in causing the accident. No life-threatening injuries were reported in either incident.
McCoy said she could not disclose the library’s own budget for renovations. She did say, however, that if HVAC and plumbing wears out, the university allocates a small budget to repair them. This also applies to the carpet and paint. Sometimes repairs are covered by grants.
According to McCoy, the fire alarm systems were recently replaced, but drills are only supposed to be conducted a few times a year. The library staff usually does not conduct these tests during peak hours when many students are present. However, last week the alarms went off during the busy period.
“We try to avoid having fire drills during the busy times,” she said. “We usually try to do drills in the summer and January.”
McCoy believes that a new library would appeal to prospective students. She sees the library as the intellectual heart of campus.
“It serves students, faculty and staff from every discipline and is even open to the community as well,” she said.
Charlotte Swafford, a freshman and commuter student who spends most of her day in the library commons, said she enjoys going to the library, but that much of the furniture and the bathrooms need to be redone.
“It’s a very central location,” Swafford said. “That’s why I go there the whole time. If I go to Perkins, it’s a trek to get anywhere else.”
Swafford agrees with McCoy that renovations are needed. She said that if the university decides to renovate and it becomes necessary to partially close the library, it should at least allocate more space for quiet study.
“Really the only quiet places to do work aside from the library are the study rooms in the residence halls and Trabant Lounge,” Swafford said.
McCoy concluded that renovations are a priority for the library, but since many other buildings, including McKinly and Drake, require maintenance, the library needs to be made a higher priority for administration.
“We need the help of students to voice their opinions to campus administrators,” McCoy said. “Students advocating for us would be a huge help.”