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UW Memorial Library rendering

This rendering shows a conceptual representation of the UW-Madison Memorial Library as approached from State and Lakes streets.

UW-Madison’s Memorial Library will be reconstructed to open up its ground floor to be more welcoming to the public under a newly completed libraries master plan.

“The location of Memorial Library on the edge of campus, at the end of State Street, is an ideal place to support the Wisconsin Idea and invite the public in to use the resources,” said Carrie Kruse, director of College Library and project manager for the libraries master plan.

Kruse compared the Memorial Library envisioned for the future to the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St., with its wide open ground floor of public spaces and events. Just as access is controlled to laboratories on the upper floors of WID, parts of the Memorial collection that must be protected could be secured in areas not open to the public.

The transformation of Memorial Library Mall, 728 State St., is part of a sweeping 25-year plan that would reduce the number of libraries on campus from more than 30 to six, including a new library to be developed in an as yet unselected location in the south area of campus.

Costs estimates have not yet been released, but Kruse said fulfilling the vision will require significant private fundraising.

Campus officials announced Thursday that two forums on the library plan will be held next Thursday at noon in Room 126 Memorial Library and 4 p.m. in the BioCommons at Steenbock Library, 550 Babcock Dr.

“The Chancellor gave us the challenge of rationalizing the number of libraries on this campus, while looking for a way to transform the long-term vision of how we serve our users,” Ed Van Gemert, vice provost for libraries and university librarian, said in a news release. “This plan enhances our strengths: world-class information resources, the expertise of professional librarians and library staff, and modern, well-designed learning spaces. I truly believe everything starts with the right vision, and we have found that vision.”

For the past year, campus officials have worked with Engberg Anderson Architects of Madison and Milwaukee and consultant brightspot strategies of New York to gather and analyze data on library usage and demands, and collect information from faculty, students and staff.

Under the plan Memorial; College Library, 600 N. Park St.; Steenbock, and the new South Library would join the Law Library, 975 Bascom Mall, and Ebling Library, 750 N. Highland Ave. in the Health Sciences Learning Center as “hubs.”

“The goal is, that no matter where you are on campus, you will be no more than 15 minutes walking distance from a library,” said Natasha Veeser, head of communications for the library system.

As envisioned, all the hubs would have such things as group study rooms, classrooms, multi-use event spaces, and data management support and visualization capacities, Kruse said.

The consolidation of campus libraries, spurred by the digitization of learning and research materials, has been ongoing since before the master planning process began.

Under the current structure, more than one-third of the library space on campus warehouses physical collections, of which only 25 percent have circulated in the past decade. Currently, collection space on campus occupies approximately 327,000 square feet. The master plan would reduce that by more than 60 percent, to some 123,800 square feet.

Campus officials say the consolidation of libraries will allow staff — instead of being marooned at small highly specialized libraries with limited patronage — to more fully serve the campus community in the new hubs and beyond.

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First steps in realizing the master plan will be securing more off-site storage space that can be climate-controlled to preserve rare materials, Kruse said.

The renovation of College Library, already underway, will continue, as will consolidation of library materials from the many small libraries now dotting the campus.

The siting and development of the South Campus Library — whether in a new or existing building — would occur as already planned development in the area takes place.

A two-phase renovation and reconstruction of Memorial Library is scheduled to begin in 2028, Kruse said.

Adoption of the master plan “gives us something to work toward and get donors excited about,” Kruse said.

The full library plan will be posted here.

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