In its present form, Cross Campus Library easily accomplishes a near-impossible task: It makes studying at 1:30 a.m. even more depressing than it otherwise would be. In contrast to the majestic Sterling Memorial Library next door, CCL — with its white plaster walls, stained couches and worn carpets — has all the grandeur and atmosphere of a bomb shelter. Down to the smallest details, CCL is a disaster, from its uncomfortable chairs to the thin, winding staircases that invite head-on collisions.
An underground library like CCL may never rise to the level of one of Yale’s architectural landmarks. But a planned renovation of the library in 2006 offers hope that one of the University’s most important buildings will not remain its ugliest, too.
Mixing glass walls and brick into the design is a promising start, and if organized properly, a snack bar could be a good touch, too. But in redesigning CCL, the University’s first priority must be to strengthen the library’s primary uses — as a place for study and research. A first step would be to get the little things right: adding more power outlets and water fountains, making the private “weenie bins” soundproof and creating a better division between areas for group work and silent study. At the same time, the proposed conversion of many of those weenie bins to larger classrooms and meeting spaces is a troubling prospect unless it can be done without sacrificing the ability of CCL to offer private, individual study rooms.
The reality is that despite CCL’s architectural flaws, the library serves an essential purpose. For undergraduates, CCL is often the main resource for books, as it contains the most widely used titles out of the University’s enormous holdings. Beyond that, CCL is a central study place, especially late at night. Few undergraduates may have great love for CCL, but they keep coming back because they have little alternative.
So even as Yalies will no doubt welcome a revamped CCL, the University must offer a contingency plan to satisfy student needs during the year-long renovation. If the most popular books are going to be housed in other library spaces, like nearby Sterling, Yale needs to ensure that the same long hours afforded at CCL apply there. Likewise, with CCL out of commission, the University should make sure to provide another large, central study place that can complement the residential colleges in offering students a quiet space to work late at night.
And beyond architecture, a close look at CCL’s role should demonstrate another point: It is finally time for Yale to follow the lead of Harvard, Penn and Columbia and offer a central 24-hour library. As long as Yalies are still pulling all-nighters, a need for CCL will exist not just at midnight or 1 a.m., but in the early morning hours as well. While a Yale College Council-led effort to bring all-night hours a few years ago failed, a new CCL should provide a new impetus for investing in the extra security needed to keep the library open.
With a better layout, new furniture and a revamped lounge area, CCL has the potential to be a much more inviting place — even for those who must spend the night there. Given the effort required to make such a library a reality, it would be unfortunate if students weren’t able to take full advantage of the results.