UC-San Diego Library Reveals Completed Renovation

NISO Member News

The UC San Diego Geisel Library proudly revealed its second-floor renovation updating the flagship building of the university to fulfill the 21st-century needs of its patrons.

The reveal marked the completion of the Geisel Library Revitalization Initiative, a major effort to transform and revitalize the most heavily-used interior public spaces on floors 1, 2, and 8 to meet the evolving needs of 21st-century students and scholars in an increasingly digital world.

The initiative aimed to dramatically enhance the user experience in Geisel by creating modern, technology-rich spaces that advance research and learning. The revitalization initiative kicked off in 2016 with the opening of Audrey’s Cafe and continued with the renovation of the 8th floor in 2018, and now this remodel of the second main floor.

Erik Mitchell, Audrey Geisel University librarian, said the recent renovation has revitalized the building, not only brightening up its space but making it more inviting and user-friendly.

“As the campus continues to expand, we are addressing a much-sought-after need for more space to accommodate the study and collaboration habits of our on-campus and commuter students,” said Mitchell. “This project redefines how we serve our patrons and creates 7,800 square feet of additional space for them to meet, become inspired, and work together.”

Mitchell said there have been smaller changes to user space in the library building over the years while characterizing this most recent big renovation as “a long time coming” and “one of a kind.”

The university librarian noted the updated and improved Geisel Library is one of the first libraries in the nation to invest in research data curation. Data curation is the documentation, management, and preservation of research data to produce datasets that are FAIR: findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable.

Mitchell noted that the actual construction of the third and final phase of the Geisel renovation started in January of this year and was finished in August. He praised the renovated library’s enhanced look and feel.

“This most recent renovation was really important to help us articulate and implement a new vision for how libraries serve students and the public,” he said. “Today, it is really all about online and point of need – getting you what you need when you need it. We’re able now to offer 24-hour service to students while quadrupling the amount of space available to them.”

Geisel’s head librarian said one of the biggest changes with the new renovation was to move away from the “big circulation desk” model toward a “point of service mobile” model. He added that library patrons, instead of going to a single central service hub, will now be helped by mobile staff able to engage them throughout the facility.

“The vision behind that is to provide a more modern approach to delivering library services, informed by how we like to be helped today,” Mitchell said, citing the library renovation’s new “meet spot” as a case in point.

“The meet spot is a cute little meeting room right in the entrance of the library offering a cozy living room space and showcasing our new books and collections,” Mitchell said. “We’ve also added a gallery and a creative, inspirational space. We have a long history of showcasing collections and exhibits. This is a new place that helps them stand out.”

Another renovated library space, according to Mitchell, is an active learning classroom with space for about 60 students. “It’s a larger, more flexible, glass-walled room right in the middle of the library,” he pointed out.

Now that the Geisel Library renovation has finally been closed out, Mitchell said the university will now “take a step back and reassess what student needs are for the whole campus,” as the library and the university move forward.


What’s Changed:

  • The total footprint of the renovation is approximately 18,700 square feet, which includes the entrance, lobby and main corridor. Of that, 7,800 square feet of employee workspace was converted to public user space adding 160 seats for students to study and collaborate.
  • Addition of a brand-new gallery where items from Special Collections & Archives and other works from campus can be showcased. The inaugural exhibit curated by Special Collections & Archives director Lynda Claassen titled “Shaping A Library” will be on display through the end of the fall quarter.
  • The renovated space also marks the beginning of an expanded 24/5 study space, encompassing the first and second floors of the library, something UC San Diego students have asked about for many years.
  • By winter quarter, students will also be able to access course textbooks and technology items like headphones 24/5 using the library’s new BorrowBot, a self-service borrowing kiosk.


Located in the center of UC San Diego Campus, the Geisel Library is directly north of the Price Center. The first books were moved into the building on June 29, 1970. Complete occupancy took place in September 1970, more than two years after construction began.

The original library structure of 17,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and glass is composed of eight levels rising 110 feet above the ground. The overall finish boasts anodized aluminum window walls containing 38,000 square feet of plate glass. To bear the weight and stress of the cantilevered building, four massive cast-in-place bents or slope beam columns are anchored in footings on each of the four sides of the building. The total cost of the original library project, including construction, architecture, furniture, equipment, and administration, was $5.4 million. Construction cost alone was $4.4 million, $25 per square foot.

On Dec. 1, 1995, the University Library Building was renamed Geisel Library in honor of Audrey and Theodor (Dr. Seuss) Geisel for the generous contributions they made and their devotion to improving literacy. The library addition, designed by Gunnar Birkerts, was deliberately designed to be subordinated to the strong, geometrical form of the existing library. The library, designed in the late 1960s by William Pereira, has become a visual symbol for the university.