Clark Commons to occupy Shapiro Library’s repurposed third floor


A renewal of the third floor of the Shapiro Library, which will connect researchers and scholars to the broad array of available library services, is now underway.


The estimated $6 million project, which covers 37,500 square feet and had been delayed by the pandemic, will create a hub for advanced research tools and practices such as data visualization, digital methods and tools, publishing, copyright and more.

Most of the floor will be dedicated to student use, and it will expand library capacity by more than 200 seats. It will be built and equipped to accommodate a range of work styles and methodologies, with interactive, collaborative and quiet zones for groups and individuals. 

The space will be called the Stephen S. Clark Commons, named for the donor whose $4 million gift is funding the majority of the project. Other funding comes from University Library gifts and resources and Office of the Provost resources. 

Stephen Clark
Stephen Clark

Clark, a longtime supporter of the library, also helped fund the Stephen S. Clark Library, which offers maps and atlases from the 16th century to the present, as well as access to and help with geographic data and government information. The Clark Library and the Clark Commons will reside on either side of the bridge that connects the Hatcher and Shapiro Libraries.

“Stephen’s gift allows us to completely reimagine a large space, and moreover one that’s connected to the Hatcher building,” said Dean of Libraries James Hilton. “It will be an important milestone as we seek to expand and simplify access to library experts and services so the entire U-M community can make the most of all the library has to offer.” 

Fully realizing this vision will require a full-scale renovation of the Hatcher-Shapiro complex, Hilton said. He hopes the Clark Commons will serve as proof-of-concept for this major campus undertaking. 

“These buildings were designed first and foremost to house print materials in a pre-digital era,” Hilton said. Many of these materials — including back issues of science journals, which occupy most of the shelves on the third floor of Shapiro — are available online, which is how most people access them.

“A 21st-century research library needs more public space for its services, as well as a thoughtfully selected onsite collection and ready access to the rest via excellent digital and physical delivery methods.” 

The materials removed from the third floor of Shapiro will remain part of the collection, deliverable to patrons upon request. Current issues of science journals will be available in the Serials and Microforms room on the second floor of Hatcher Library.

Photo of exterior of Shapiro Library.
The third floor of the Shapiro Library will be known as the Stephen S. Clark Commons. (Photo by Bill Breser)

The project  

Planning for the Clark Commons was well underway when the pandemic hit. Now, allowing for the uncertainties of large construction projects, the work is expected to begin as soon as April, Associate Dean of Libraries Donna Hayward said. Visitors to the third floor of Shapiro will have already seen some changes. 

The project will take many months to complete, Hayward said, because the renovation includes some changes to the floor’s structure.

“We’re creating open sight lines and enhancing access to natural light, which requires demolition and removal of some enclosed spaces,” she said. “Also, we’re adding some welcome additional restroom capacity.” 

She expects the Clark Commons to open in winter 2023.

Clark’s motivation

Clark, a U-M alumnus and businessman, said the Shapiro Undergraduate Library saved his college career by providing a bulwark against the temptations and distractions of college life.

The temptations were the Village Bell, a campus watering hole on South University Avenue, when the drinking age was 18, and the persistence of his fraternity brothers, eager for his company there. With the library as a destination, though, he could, as he says, “slip away after dinner and get my work done.”  

That’s why decades later, when Clark began to consider donating to the university, he looked to the library, and why he recently committed to supporting the Shapiro Library’s third floor conversion into a place for students to find resources and refuge. This most recent gift is the largest in the library’s history.

His first transformational gift to the library in 2011, toward the creation of the Clark Library, brought together the library’s map collection, government information center, and geographical data services in a welcoming space equipped to facilitate exploration and discovery within and among these areas. 

Clark, an inventor and now-retired chairman and CEO of Dwyer Instruments Inc., understands and appreciates the library’s ambition for the transformation. He also knows that while the particular temptations of college life may have changed — the Village Bell is long gone — distraction itself is a constant.

“I spent a lot of time in the library, and my hope is to provide students with a pleasant and comfortable space for collaboration and study,” Clark said. And the library is the ideal space, Clark notes, because it “serves everyone at the university, and not just one school or college.”

His motive to give is straightforward. He wants to “improve the experience for current and future students.”


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