Lilly Library to close for two years when renovations begin in May

Lilly Library’s long-awaited renovation and expansion will begin this May. 

Plans for the renovation were first announced in 2018 due to a “lack of services and adequate space." Construction was due to start in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in the estimated project costs pushed the start date back. 

The total estimated cost now sits at $64 million, with $20 million of those costs coming from a donation by The Duke Endowment, a private foundation based in Charlotte.

After final exams end on May 4, Lilly will close to begin renovations. Aaron Welborn, director of communications for Duke Libraries, said that the renovation is expected to take two years, though there is not yet an official timeline. 

During the closure, Lilly staff will be based out of the Bishop’s House, located behind Bassett dorm. The building previously housed the Duke continuing studies offices. First-year students will be able to pick up requested materials, print documents and meet with Lilly staff. Students will also be able to use the music library in the Mary Duke Biddle Music Building.

Some materials will be temporarily relocated to the Perkins and Bostock libraries or to off-campus storage. According to Welborn, the Innovation CoLab and its 3-D printers will be temporarily relocated to Wilson Residence Hall. Lilly’s signature film collection will be moved to Perkins but will be request-only. 

The renovations will increase Lilly’s square footage by about 75% and add around 200 more seats. Group study spaces and project rooms similar to those in the West campus libraries will be added. 

Lilly’s three reading rooms will be mostly preserved, but their lighting and technology will be upgraded. 

Additions to Lilly will include a 75-seat auditorium, an exhibit space and a café similar to Saladelia in Perkins with an outdoor terrace and seating. The café will be in the back of Lilly close to the tennis courts. Renovations will also add a new entrance in the back to “connect [the library] with the residential ‘backyard’ of East Campus.”

Welborn said that a “book lovers room” that creates a “casual, nice, attractive, cozy spot for casual reading” would be included in the renovated library, a room that existed decades ago when the building was called the Women’s College Library.

Welborn conceded that the renovation process will be difficult to ignore on East Campus. 

“Hopefully most of the noisy work is during times when students are not here, but there’s no way to avoid some of the noise and inconvenience of a big construction project like this, unfortunately,” Welborn said. 

In the long-term, Welborn thinks the renovations will be well worth the hassle. 

“It’s going to be a really beautiful, lovely space that we haven’t had over there in a long time,” Welborn said. “... There’s not going to be the little cubicles dividing the reading rooms, there’s not going to be the kind of creepy vibe to get downstairs, there’s not going to be as much water leakage and other sorts of emergencies that pop up right now with Lilly." 

“I think students are really going to appreciate it once it’s done. And we’re all going to appreciate it because it’s going to be a community space.”


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