University of Michigan Library Reopens After Extensive Renovation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The University of Michigan (U-M) William L. Clements Library reopened on April 11 after a more than two-year, $17 million renovation and expansion. The project enhances accessibility and increases the use of the library’s collections for teaching and learning.

Originally opened in 1923, the library for years only allowed entry to about a dozen scholars per year; however, that has significantly changed during the past few decades. The library began opening its doors to a broader audience, granting access requests from the general public and encouraging students and scholars from all academic levels to use the collections.

"We’re thrilled to welcome people back to a space that we’re very proud of," said Clements Library Director J. Kevin Graffagnino in a statement. "There are many alumni who studied here and have probably never had the opportunity to step inside, which is something we really want to change."

The renovation included updates to the building’s plumbing, wiring, climate control, fire suppression and security systems. Improvements extended to all three floors of the building, and new construction focused on a two-level underground addition that includes a 3,000-square-foot, climate-controlled storage space. The completely revitalized lower level includes renovated curatorial offices, collections and preservation work spaces, meeting rooms and a larger room to be used for class visits, lectures and larger meetings.

Designed by Michigan Architect Albert Kahn, the library has been a central landmark on the U-M campus since opening. It is named after William L. Clements, the building’s benefactor, an Ann Arbor native, U-M alumnus and former university regent. Clements made his fortune supplying equipment for the construction of the Panama Canal. As his personal wealth grew, he began collecting the rare books and manuscripts that now comprise a large portion of the library’s collection, which is one of the most comprehensive collections of early American history in the world.

A large part of the collection relates to the American Revolution. In fact, Clements found descendants of key influencers in the Revolution (Lord Shelburne, General Sir Henry Clinton, General Nathanael Greene, to name a few) and bought their ancestors’ papers to bring back to Ann Arbor. Other highlights include documents relating to the discovery of North America, Native American history, the American Civil War, the anti-slavery movement and the exploration westward, according to a statement.

During construction, the library remained open in an off-campus facility and continued to specialize in preserving and collecting original primary source documents from 1492 to 1900.