Our dean had been dreaming about creating a beautiful new reading room for more than a decade. Not long after I started at Ohio Northern in 2001, we walked the old space together while he gestured toward the grand “arch” or elegant French doors that he envisioned so clearly in his mind. There would be natural light and long wooden tables — exactly what a traditional reading room should look like.
It was exciting to share in his vision and enthusiasm. But nagging questions came to mind. Where would we move everything to make room for new tables? How could we finish in just one summer (he always referred to this as a “summer project”)? How could we put in modern technology while still keeping the “traditional look”?
For the first few years I put off worrying about such things because we didn’t have any money. But by 2006 fundraising began to honor a former dean, Eugene Hanson, and the time had come to find some answers.
Our “Hanson Reading Room” renovation project was completed during the summer of 2008. Demolition started in May on the day after graduation, and we reopened in August. The construction contract specified a 93-day project. The work was completed in 93 days and one week, after some requested changes.
This renovation represents many things for our school: a traditional law library reading room that is a special tribute for a beloved dean; a fully wired space for research and instruction; and an attractive and flexible setting for special events. The reading room has long tables, built-in bookcases, and skylights with beautiful natural light. Case reporters line the walls.
All of the tables and chairs were handcrafted in cherry in the Mission Style by Amish craftsmen from Ohio. The custom bookcases, doors, interior windows, and trim are finished in solid cherry wood.
The formal reading room itself seats 54 and encourages students to study and socialize together, fostering a close-knit community. Adjacent to the main space are two alcoves with overstuffed leather seating, accommodating casual groups of six. Behind the French doors are two seminar rooms for groups of 12.
Yet modern technology is used throughout – just without visible high-tech features. Power and data outlets are located in table aprons (near your hands) with matching cherry outlet covers. Video projectors and screens are concealed in ceilings. Crestron controllers rest in custom-built recesses in the seminar room tables. The wireless network is available everywhere.
The lighting system provides multi-level, flexible lighting ranging from five new skylights to dimmable pendant fixtures. Directional recessed lights highlight bookcases and study areas.
Finally, our new reading room was designed to be adaptable space. The hard-wired tables unplug from floor outlets and can be rearranged for special events. We have held receptions there already.
And yes, we did find homes for all the books and shelving that we had to remove before construction could start!
Nancy Armstrong is director of the law library at Ohio Northern University Taggart Law Library in Ada.
(Photos by Ken Colwell)