Next time you get to campus, walk inside the Sci Li—you may be surprised. The iconic fourteen-story building, completed in 1971, once featured 550,000 science books and precious few non-science students. Today, though, only three floors still hold the familiar stacks of books. You’re as likely to see a cafe or funky furniture as books on quantum physics.Many floors of the Sci Li are newly renovated, with glass-walled offices interspersed with open study and teaching spaces that include write-on walls. (Think whiteboard, only in different colors and even wood grain.) The new design is by Architecture Research Office, a New York–based firm.
The Friedman Study Center, run by the library, draws students from disciplines across the humanities and sciences to its three floors, including an underground atrium. Other floors host centers and programs aimed at providing support to students and faculty, including the Writing Fellows program, the Science Center, the First Gen Center, the Sheridan Center for Teaching, and the Language Resource Center.
Why all the changes? Basically, science has gone digital, and the University needed the space for other purposes. Scholars access nearly all science journals, and many monographs, digitally from their own computers, and so only ten percent of the Sci Li’s print collection circulates in a given year. The most popular volumes are still on shelves there, and everything that’s not can be fetched from a nearby annex in a day.
The transformation was a quick one. In March 2015, staff were given five months to clear out five floors of the building, which meant moving nearly 250,000 items off site. (Two floors of the Sci Li—and some 40,000 volumes—had already been cleared out in 2014.) And stay tuned. More changes are on the way, including a new project called the Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab on the tenth floor.