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Sterling's nave to close for a year

Take a good look at the nave of Sterling Memorial Library this month if you can—you're not going to see it again till the fall of 2014. On June 3, construction work will begin on a project to reconfigure the library services in one of Yale's most iconic spaces and restore the room's stone, stained glass, and woodwork. The project is being funded by a $20 million anonymous donation.

While the restoration part of the project looks backward—cleaning the residue of years of cigarette smoke from the stone and bringing the room back to its original appearance—the rearrangement of library services is an effort to join the self-serve twenty-first century.

The north aisle (everyone at the library uses terms from church architecture without irony to describe the space), which now has computer workstations, will be the new home for library services that require interaction with employees: securing privileges, paying fines, etc. Those functions will be locked away at night, making it possible to keep the nave itself open late after services are closed. Most remarkably, the “altar” or circulation desk will be breached at both ends, and unordained library users will be allowed to pass through to the stacks behind. A bank of scanners and self-checkout stations will occupy the space behind the altar.

Most of the library’s remaining card-catalog cabinets, in the south aisle area, will be removed, leaving only those built into the walls. (They’re all empty, in any case.) That area and a bit of the north aisle will be converted to study space. University librarian Susan Gibbons says that the Bass Library has taught them that “students like see-and-be-seen study spaces.”

Library staff are preparing for a year of disruption. In June, scaffolding will go up throughout the nave, and library users will navigate the space via an enclosed walkway. (They ask that we not call it a tunnel.) The cherished librarian's courtyard will be a staging area for the construction and thus inaccesible for the length of the project. Although reading rooms on the first floor of Sterling will remain open, the noise level during the day may be distracting, so the library is using its website to promote other study spaces in the building. And the building's High Street façade, a favorite spot for pictures, will have scaffolding and temporary doors (which means the parade for the October inauguration of Peter Salovey ’86PhD as president will not start from the library as is the custom).

Library staff say the project, designed by Helpern Architects, will be completed by September of 2014.

Filed under architecture, Sterling Memorial Library

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