Letter to Folger Readers: Renovation Plans — April 2019

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Dear Folger readers,

For several years now, we have been telling you about the quiet steps the Folger has been taking towards a major renovation project. We can confirm now that the project will be underway as early as January 2020 and may continue into 2022. A $50 million capital campaign will be launched on April 15 to support the project, and nearly half of our goal has been raised to date.

Throughout this process, we have been thinking carefully about our research community and its needs. We are fully aware that this is a real—albeit temporary—disruption in scholarly work at the Folger. As part of the Folger leadership team, we have every confidence that in the long run the renovations will benefit scholars. Still, we know that you depend on us and other libraries to conduct your research. We know how loyal a community you have been. We embrace the challenge of setting in place new opportunities to ameliorate the loss of familiar routines here for the duration of the renovations. 

Last spring, we wrote to you about initial steps the Institute was taking to fund research on the road. Now we have come to the next crucial decision about access to the collections, and we write to you with news on that front, as we work out the details. 

Our greatest responsibility is to care for our peerless collection. This guiding principle has us all but certain that we will be storing both the rare and modern collections securely offsite during renovation. Such a move will also facilitate much needed work in the vaults, from installing more compact shelving to updating our fire suppression systems. 

How might readers’ special requests to consult materials be accommodated, on what schedule, and according to what priorities? These are our next challenging decisions, and the Collections team is actively exploring answers. We know how much these answers will matter to your own planned research projects. Be assured that you will hear from us again as we work through possible solutions. Digitization, conservation, and cataloguing will continue apace.

Folger Institute fellowships and scholarly programs will continue to foster advanced research. Our first set of our offsite programs with consortium partners is announced in the 2019-20 program, now online. The results of our competitive long-term semi-residential fellowships for 2019-20 are also available online, and the short-term fellows will be announced soon. The Before ‘Farm to Table’ team is organizing scholarly programs with our longstanding partners, the Newberry and Huntington libraries, as part of its plans. 

How will this renovation touch on our research and staff spaces in the historic core of the building? We are laying the groundwork for an expanded set of options in a reader’s experience at the Folger over the course of a day. Imagine, for instance, spending your time in our historic reading room in ergonomically designed furniture with improved lighting, wifi, and electrical outlets; consulting with a curator or conservator about a rare item in a convenient study room; participating in seminars and small lectures in the elegant Founders’ Room or new multi-purpose and flexible meeting spaces; or indeed enjoying the simple pleasures of having a conversation over coffee in the Great Hall before it opens to the public, a lunch before a seminar, or a glass of wine with colleagues at the close of the day. Be assured we are also imagining how the fruits of your scholarship can both fuel and be fueled by 6,000 new square feet dedicated to showcasing our rare books and manuscripts.

The Folgers built their memorial library in the shadow of the United States Capitol for a reason. They themselves described it as a gift to the American people. With these renovations, we are committed to welcoming 21st-century visitors to the Folger in a gracious, fully accessible way. This project will enhance our ability to foster and extend the reach of humanistic inquiry. It will strengthen the Folger’s already strong position representing the significance of humanities and arts in our civic life.

These goals will not change when we return. As an independent research library, the Folger will provide generous access to a dedicated working space for scholars. We will gather intellectual communities. We will create knowledge. And we will leverage our resources to do so. Our collections will continue growing; they will stay onsite, with rare materials delivered promptly and our period-focused secondary sources fully browsable in open stacks. The Institute has secured and awarded many millions of dollars in support of scholarly work, and it will continue to do so. 

To end where we began, we recognize that these Folger renovations will have a direct impact on our research community’s habits, and we know you have many questions. Together with our colleagues, we will continue to write to you with updates about decisions taken and accommodations worked out. In the meantime, please schedule your next research trip this calendar year if you can. As usual, please send your collections questions to reference@folger.edu and your programming questions to institute@folger.edu. We appreciate your understanding and trust as we work towards a renewed research community in the future Folger. 
 

Kathleen Lynch
Executive Director, Folger Institute
 
Greg Prickman, 
Eric Weinmann Librarian, 
Director of Collections
 

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