Library Officials Talk About Mullins Renovation

Dean of Libraries Dennis T. Clark leads a student forum Nov. 7 about the renovation of Mullins library.

Dean of Libraries Dennis Clark announced Thursday the details and cost of the renovations to David W. Mullins Library, including the fact that Mullins will receive its first sprinkler system, a dozen more study rooms and hundreds more seats.

Beyond creating a more modern research library, the remodel of the 51-year-old building is necessary for safety reasons, Clark said at two public forums in the Helen Robson Walton Reading Room on Thursday.

“We don’t have sprinklers in this building at all, and this is one of the largest buildings on campus not to have fire suppression,” Clark said. “I had a colleague...who used to talk about the library being full of two things: students and fuel.”

Builders will remove asbestos from the ceilings and install a fire-suppression system as the first step in the $23 million renovations to the third and fourth floors of the library, Clark said.

After 22 years without renovations, the renovations, scheduled to begin after the 2019 fall semester, will be the first phase of a two-phase remodel of Mullins, Clark said. When completed, the top two floors will have 1,800 seats and 24 study rooms, double their current 900 seats and 12 study rooms. 

The top floors will also have cubicle-style desks called carrels for faculty and staff, quiet student carrels, faculty offices, open-plan collaborative areas, additional power outlets and at least four gender-neutral restrooms. Study areas and offices will be concentrated near the window-lined exterior walls to maximize natural lighting, Clark said. Library employees will also move about 225,000 volumes from offsite storage back to the top floors when renovations conclude in summer 2021.

At the forums, Clark unveiled the tentative floor plans for each level and took questions and comments from faculty and students. Aside from those leading the meeting, 16 faculty members attended the first forum. Two students and about eight additional faculty members attended the later student forum, though some arrived late or left early. 

Zayuris Atencio, a first-year masters student, and Guillermo Pupo, a third-year doctoral student, work at the library as an engineering graduate assistant and a distance education assistant.

Both Atencio and Pupo mostly use the second floor’s seating and desks when they study or work in the library, especially since the third and fourth floors’s books were moved to the annex, they said. 

Like other UA students, Atencio and Pupo have a few concerns about the Mullins renovation process.

Atencio said sometimes it is hard to find seating on the second floor, and she is worried the year-and-a-half-long closure of the top two floors will make crowding worse, she said.

Pupo did not think the public forum did enough to inform him about all the ways the renovations will affect students, but one key feature of the plan excites him, he said.

“I really like the idea of having more light coming in to the library because then you’re not going to get a lot of stress,” Pupo said.

Atencio was relieved to learn there will be more outlets so even when the library is crowded students will have places to charge their computers, she said.

Jessica Kelly, a scholarly communications assistant at the Office of Scholarly Communications, attended the faculty forum. Kelly thinks that although the renovation process is sluggish, the library is moving in the right direction, she said after listening to the presentation.

“I think it’s going to meet a lot of needs for students on campus,” Kelly said. “I think any sort of process like this is going to have growing pains, and the process is frustratingly slow, kind of like renovating a house. I’m concerned but hopeful.”

While Pupo and Atencio are unsure of how the library changes will affect them, and the student body as a whole, they said they aren’t ready to pass judgement yet.

“People I guess need to wait a little bit and see what’s going to happen at the end before they start complaining,” Pupo said. “We just need to give the opportunity to the dean and the new administration to show that they want to try to make changes that...will benefit faculty and students.”

Sarah Komar is a staff reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

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