Letter to Folger Researchers: Renovation Plans — July 2019

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Dear Folger Research Community,

We write with another update on the Folger’s renovation plans, which we have been sharing as key decisions are made and the project moves closer to construction.

The larger aims of the renovation are to create more space for public engagement while also ensuring the continued research use of our growing collections onsite. It is vital that we create the next generation of scholars, artists, teachers, and humanists who are inspired by our collections and programming. Just as vitally, we must advance research here at the Folger. That’s an endeavor most readily associated with the collections, but it also spans work in the theater, classroom, exhibitions, and online. Deep inquiry conducted within our walls makes for more authentic public engagement, so we see both the public and the research aspects of our mission as forming a single, complementary whole.

Still, the Folger researcher’s experience is an especially valued one, and it has been nurtured by longstanding institutional support and investment. Scholarly research here has also been undertaken in workspaces that have changed slowly over decades of use. In earlier letters, we have shared the expected timeline of our renovation and some of the changes and improvements that researchers will see when we reopen in 2022. It is time now to speak specifically about the research and collection needs that will be addressed by the renovation, as well as some of the institutional goals we must satisfy as we reconfigure our spaces.

Folger researchers will recognize a number of needs that have become more obvious in the lead-up to our project, which include 1) the need to keep our growing collection onsite; 2) the need to provide more productive and collaborative workspaces for researchers and Collections staff alike; and 3) the need to bring researchers’ workspaces into alignment with ergonomic standards and parity with similar workspaces at the British Library, the Huntington, and Penn Special Collections, for instance.

Surveys of stack space and growth have made us aware of the long term need to keep our growing collection onsite. We are committed to the value of having the open, browsable stacks of a well-curated modern collection, and rare materials readily available to readers. To ensure that this environment is preserved, we will use this renovation as an opportunity to significantly upgrade fire suppression and collections security, as well as provide further capacity for growth.

Not surprisingly, the staff that works with researchers and the collection has also grown. Today, many Collections staff members are working in cramped and dispersed quarters, at arm’s length from the high circulation areas in the reading rooms. In recent years, we have come to understand that staff are doing different kinds of work, not only researching and servicing the collection, but working alongside researchers as collaborators. That gap is one we would like to close.

Researchers, in turn, rightly expect modern amenities. Because they are working for hours at a stretch, they need ergonomically supportive spaces, with improved lighting, wifi, and more convenient electrical outlets. Researchers are also now coming to us with group projects and questions that require the ability to talk out loud with rare materials directly at hand. We are also pursuing collaborative research initiatives to foster those forms of humanities research.

In support of these needs, we will refit the Bond Reading Room with seminar and consultation rooms for working collaboratively with curators and other scholars. We will also move the workspaces of a portion of our growing Collections staff to the Bond Reading Room where they can work directly with the collection as well as with researchers. An important consequence of these changes is that the Paster Reading Room will become the sole workspace for independent, quiet research with rare collections material. That space will be refurbished with care, according to today’s standards for humanities research. Our expected average daily use will be readily accommodated. We will provide for overflow capacity when needed, as for instance when we host the Folger Orientation to Research Methods and Agendas for several dozen graduate students at a time.

We will also provide more gracious and accessible spaces for when you step away from the Reading Room. For instance, some of you have spent time in the Founders’ Room during a working day, either eating lunch or having a conversation over coffee. Some gravitate toward this room for a change of scenery during writing. A refurbished Great Hall, with seating clusters and small tables, will also be available for conversation and coffee before it opens to the public, for informal lunch before a seminar, or a glass of wine with colleagues at the close of the day. The Great Hall is a large space that can support multiple uses at any given moment, including opportunities for researchers to talk directly with the public about ongoing research. All of us are going to spend more time here, even as these uses do not preclude other informal gatherings throughout the building as well as in refreshed garden oases outside.

As we write with this news, our renovation plans are under review by the Historic Preservation Review Board of the District of Columbia. The architects are finishing construction documents, and we expect to put those drawings out to bid at the end of the year. Our fundraising campaign, The Wonder of Will, continues to secure philanthropic gifts to support this work. We feel confident that our plans are on track, and that the rough outlines of the schedule we shared last year will hold.

We know you have more questions. So do we, and we will return with more news as we make decisions around the project and future programming. In the meantime, we can now announce that the final day for research in our Reading Rooms before construction begins is Saturday, January 4, 2020. We have seen many of you make special trips here in recent months. We look forward to seeing more this summer and fall. As you continue to make your plans for ongoing research, 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

Are you a researcher?

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