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The design for a next-generation library at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is taking shape and moving forward.

A hybrid renovation-and-new-construction option for UWO’s current Polk Library is advancing in Universities of Wisconsin capital budget and planning processes. The direction moving forward calls for a modernization to current Polk Library’s 1967 building paired with the demolition and reconstruction of the complex’s north wing.

An exterior view of the new, north-facing wing of the library, including its ground-level ‘porch’ concept.

Upon completion, the revitalized library complex will total 163,000 square feet, a footprint smaller than the existing Polk Library’s but more modern, with brighter, more sustainable and efficient use of energy and space. The hybrid design approach is responsive to the preferences of today’s UWO learners and reflective of sustainability goals within the UWO2030 strategic plan.

“The plan moving forward is a clear demonstration of a commitment to sustainability, form and function,” said Library Director Sarah Neises.

“Students will be so excited to see a building designed with them in mind,” Neises said. “With its layout facilitating access to tutoring, library resources and many entrances, the revitalized library is poised to emerge as a focal point for academic achievement.”

The existing Polk Library has, for years, suffered from water penetration problems and outdated, failing mechanical systems. UWO explored three design options for the next-gen library: a full-on renovation of existing Polk; a completely new library construction project; and the hybrid renovation-and-new-addition option which is now moving forward in Universities of Wisconsin planning.

The reimagined library will “appear as one new building when complete,” according to architects’ design approach. It will integrate entrances and exits on every side of the building, make better use of the campus’s north-facing quad, align with Dempsey Hall and campus’s central mall and walkways, incorporate a new café-like “social collector space” on its north side referred to as the “porch,” and feature a striking multi-use space on the building’s northwestern, second-floor corner.

“It will include both communal areas and secluded nooks for solitary study and promises to foster a culture of collaboration and individual learning,” Neises said. “A curated selection of printed materials will be presented in an inviting atmosphere, fostering an environment conducive to both collective engagement and personal reflection.”

An interior view of renovated library space.

Modern and future libraries maintain traditional curriculum-focused collections and house distinctive local and state archives. However, on university campuses, they also continue to evolve into digital and social nerve centers, more accommodating to student, faculty, staff, alumni and community member study and research. Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ed Martini said UWO library’s transformation will follow that standard.

“For decades, Polk Library has been a haven for collaboration and discovery at UWO, and that function and identity will only be enhanced within the reimagined library,” Martini said. “Early feedback and input from students, faculty and staff have been positive given the technologies, refreshed community and study spaces and bright, modern atmosphere designed to reinforce the idea of UWO’s library as the academic heart and soul of our university. The new library will be a beacon for ‘a high-quality liberal education to all of its students in order to prepare them to become successful leaders in an increasingly diverse and global society’ as our mission prescribes. “We are thrilled to keep this project charging forward.”

The library project still has a significant journey to groundbreaking. The project will need continued endorsement from the Universities of Wisconsin and the Board of Regents. Currently, the timeline suggests enumeration in the state’s 2025-27 biennial budget, with groundbreaking—at the earliest—in later 2025 with completion targeted in 2027.

“We are ready to earn the support of our Board of Regents, our regional delegation in the state legislature and the members of the State Building Commission,” Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said. “Legislators have recognized the value of investing in modernized UW libraries for years, and we are excited to work with our stakeholders to make the case for UWO’s. The design advancing for UWO will serve the university community and our broader public well for decades to come.”

Learn more:

Polk Library

UWO2030 Strategic Plan