Input sought for reimagined Milton S. Eisenhower Library

A major renovation is planned for the 56-year-old research library on the Homewood campus

Exterior of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

Nearly 60 years after opening its doors, the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins University is on track for its first large-scale renovation.

The university plans to reimagine the existing building on the Homewood campus to make it more accessible, flexible, and welcoming through building systems upgrades, infrastructure improvements, and interior architectural upgrades.

The planning process recently began with the formation of a cross-divisional committee of faculty, staff, and students whose members will work closely with the design team at Pfeiffer Partners, a Perkins Eastman Studio, which specializes in cultural and educational projects, and the construction manager, Clark Construction Group, which is also providing oversight on the nearby Hopkins Student Center.

The largest library among the Sheridan Libraries network and the university's principal research library, MSE Library opened in 1964 and has had only minor renovations over the past 56 years. It supports more than 26,000 students and 7,500-faculty across nine divisions and is among the most heavily used spaces on the Homewood campus. That the library is such a hub for scholars is hardly a surprise at Johns Hopkins, America's first research university, says Chris Cannon, vice dean for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Krieger School and co-chair of the renovation committee.

"Many faculty and students are especially interested in making the library an inviting space for reading and writing," Cannon says. "If books are going to be moved out of the library to free up space, humanists would like to have even speedier access to those books, as well as more space to work with the materials in Special Collections. Social scientists who work with data intensively would like more opportunities to access that data. Better lighting and quiet are important to all such work, as are seminar rooms in which to share the new knowledge it produces."

The design phase will continue through December 2022, and construction is expected to start in spring 2023. The library will remain open throughout the renovation process, which will take place in phases to preserve ongoing access to affiliates and the local community.

The renovation will create new workspaces for individuals and groups, as well as seminars and teaching, with continued opportunities for research consultation, educational and instructional support, data services, and geographic information system mapping, or GIS.

Committee members are already thinking big about what's to come for MSE Library. Alexander Helms, a second-year master's degree candidate in engineering management at the Whiting School, says graduate students would like more group study spaces equipped with whiteboards and video conferencing equipment to streamline working with remote team members.

"How Hopkins students study in and interact with the Milton S. Eisenhower Library has changed by leaps and bounds since the library opened its doors in 1964," Helms says. "With the rise of digitization, collaborative multimedia, and video conferencing, students nowadays come to the library less for time alone with printed books and more to collaborate with diverse teams, who, since the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020, often span the entire globe. My vision for the reimagined MSEL is one that will balance the individual study space MSEL excels so well at now with spaces that are designed for video conferencing, in-person and remote collaboration, and that foster the interdisciplinary learning so crucial for success in today's world."

Brighter colors and more comfortable seating are also on his wish list: "Grad students often work lengthy hours, which translates to sitting at a desk for a long time. Improving the ergonomics of the individual and group study areas will help us maintain sound bodies and minds as we progress through our course or lab work," Helms says.

From an undergraduate perspective, committee member Jenny Chen, a sophomore majoring in economics and international studies at the Krieger School, says a series of simple changes—like furniture that can be rearranged to accommodate either group or independent study—could make the library a more useful, accessible, and comfortable place to study.

"Additionally, the layout of MSEL makes it difficult to navigate, especially at the lower levels—I think MSEL would benefit from adding maps around the building that are easily accessible," Chen says. "As Hopkins adopts a more hybrid model of learning, I think a must-have would be more private rooms that'll allow students to either study independently, with a small group, or attend Zoom classes. Currently, it's difficult to find a place that is not only quiet, but also has adequate internet connection to attend classes without technical difficulties."

The Hopkins community will be invited to share feedback through in person and virtual meetings this fall that will be announced at a later date.

The committee members are:

  • Chris Cannon (co-chair), Vice Dean for Humanities & Social Sciences, Krieger School
  • Sayeed Choudhury (co-chair), Associate Dean for Research Data Management and Director of the Digital Research and Curation Center
  • Chris Brown, Director of Facilities and Planning Management
  • Shane Butler, Professor, Department of Classics, Krieger School
  • Jenny Chen, Undergraduate, Krieger School
  • Chad Clapsaddle, Senior Associate Dean of Finance and Administration, Whiting School
  • Cecilia Etzel, Associate Director of Facilities, MSEL
  • Michael Falk, Vice Dean for Undergraduate Education, Whiting School
  • Mary Favret, Vice Dean of Graduate Education, Centers, and Programs, Krieger School
  • Ken Flower, Director Finance and Administration, MSEL
  • Alexander Helms, Graduate student, Whiting School
  • Naveeda Khan, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Krieger School
  • Liz Mengel, Associate Director of Library Services, MSEL
  • Kofi Ofori, Senior Associate Dean of Finance and Administration, Krieger School
  • Mike Reese, Associate Dean and Director of the Sheridan Libraries' Center for Educational Resources; Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Krieger School
  • Thomas Simmons, Facilities Project Manager, Whiting School
  • Hale Sirin, Graduate Student, Krieger School