Under Cross Campus, a bustling Bass

In just five months, a new underground culture has taken shape at Yale — literally.

Last fall, students may have passed over Cross Campus on their way to class or to Commons without a second thought. But ever since that October night when the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Library formally opened its doors at midnight to a crowd of over 1,000 students, the library has been bustling, to say the least.

Students flock to a newly renovated Bass Library at its midnight opening last October.
JonathanJimenez
Students flock to a newly renovated Bass Library at its midnight opening last October.

Any given night, the scene is the same. Bleary-eyed students plod from carrel to carrel in search of an open seat. Crowded tables of coffee sippers engage in discussion at the sustainable Thain Family Cafe. Printers hum as completed papers and problem sets mark the end of long nights at work.

In addition to repairs and upgrades to Cross Campus Library’s basic infrastructure, the 18-month, $47.8 million renovation overhauled the layout of the space to create what students have widely acknowledged is an appealing, modern study space.

And a more functional one.

The new library not only includes additional carrels and rooms designed for both individual and group study but a Collaborative Learning Center for technology services and a Yale Sustainable Food Project-operated cafe in the library’s atrium.

Overall, both students and faculty-members laud the results of the renovations for the brand-new feel they brought to once unwelcoming, fluorescent-lit library. But, they say, more can be done to enhance the studying and dining experience at Bass Library — something both administrators and students say they are working toward already.

The space-time crunch

Edward Kamens ’74, a professor of Japanese studies, was an undergraduate at Yale in the 1970s during the original construction of CCL, where he said he did some — but not most — of his studying. As someone who has seen the underground library at different stages of its architectural life, Kamens said Bass has been “a great improvement, aesthetically and functionally.”

Now, Kamens is teaching a freshman seminar about ancient Japanese culture in one of Bass’ classrooms, a setting with which he said he has been very pleased.

Kamens explained that while the library’s classrooms might not feel particularly different from others at Yale — in Bass he makes use of the same type of projection equipment that exists in most other classrooms — he thinks its central location is a major benefit for students and that the library’s rather intimate classrooms are particularly conducive to small, discussion-based classes.

“It suits the needs of my class extremely well,” Kamens said of the classroom where he teaches. “In terms of the class size, 19, it’s just right.”

Marina Santiago ’10, who frequents Bass for a couple of hours most days of the week, said her favorite place to study at the library is in one of its many chairs, because they are comfortable, but also because Bass’ popularity makes it difficult to stake out more private study spots.

“By the time I get there,” she said, “the study rooms are usually full.”

Although library administrators do not maintain constant entry data on the number of students using Bass and other libraries, Associate University Librarian Danuta Nitecki said, last December, spot monitors recorded up to 340 students using the library in a given hour during Reading Week, a peak study time, with an average of about 120 to 260 students per hour.

And, she said, “I can only imagine that that’s going to increase.”

This space crunch has been evident to some professors as well.

“The … room I’m now using wasn’t designed to accommodate a larger class that is discussion-oriented, so the seating arrangement for my 18-person poetry course is a little awkward,” English professor Brian Walsh wrote in an e-mail. “But this has been a minor inconvenience.”

Besides more space, some students said they would like to see Bass extend its late-night study hours past its weekday closing time of 1:45 a.m. — perhaps even to a 24-hour schedule. Ben Bernard ’11, who said he would “absolutely” like to see Bass open later, said the library’s closing time has become something of a milestone when finishing up late-night paper-writing.

“You know your rough draft should be done by the time you’re kicked out of Bass,” he joked.

But Fraga said he does not think later hours are essential.

“I sort of feel like if it’s 2 a.m., that’s probably a good time to stop doing work,” he said, adding that walking home from one’s nearby, 24-hour residential college library is probably safer than leaving Bass late at night.

Nitecki said she has spoken with representatives from the Yale College Council about the possibility of extending Bass’ hours and that she and other library administrators are willing to do the necessary experimentation to determine if there is a need for a later closing time. She also said that in the coming weeks she hopes to arrange group discussions between students and library administrators so that students can have the opportunity to share what they think about Bass’ renovation.

Although Nitecki said Bass has seen the return of many of the students she suspects went to CCL before it was closed, she also said the number of students using Sterling Memorial Library has not decreased, perhaps at least in part because Bass and Sterling serve different purposes on campus.

Nitecki explained that, while most libraries at Yale are designed to house a collection of resources for specific research disciplines, Bass was designed to be more generally a place for students and faculty to be able to participate in both independent and group study in a setting refurbished to accommodate their modern and diverse academic needs.

“The focus of the Bass Library,” she wrote in an e-mail, “is directed to the activities that occur within it, defined to a large extent by the students and faculty that engage in independent academic explorations, collaborative learning and conversations there.”

The nitty-gritty of Bass

The 150,000 volumes tucked away into Bass consist of an easy-to-browse selection intended to introduce students to the various subject areas taught at Yale in addition to the campus’ largest collection of course-reserve material, Nitecki said. She also said the books housed in Bass have a shorter loan period, intending them to be used quickly and by more students, especially for course readings and assignments.

Kamens said he thinks Bass’ research facilities are a valuable resource for students. In addition to being able to place books on reserve for his students, he recalled library administrators telling him they were particularly interested in having freshman seminars in Bass to help first-year students at Yale learn to make use of the library’s reference services. Kamens’ class, for example, received a special introduction to these services.

“The director of research services, Barbara Rockenbach, came to the class and gave a presentation, along with one of the bibliographers in the East Asia Library,” Kamens explained. “That sort of tied the coursework into the location and introduced us to the services available.”

After a request from the YCC, which came after February’s online student survey backing the creation of a collection of rentable DVDs on campus, in the coming weeks, Nitecki said, Bass will also house an assortment of student-selected movies that will be available for three-day circulation.

With Bass’ modern look, function and student focus, it is not surprising that with the renovation of the library has come the upgrade of the available technological services. Nitecki said Bass, in conjunction with other service units on campus, provides assistance to students, faculty and staff to help them to incorporate various technology into their study and teaching practices.

Among the services Bass offers are computer workstations with student technicians available for consultation, audio-visual equipment in classrooms and study rooms, a technology troubleshooting service and a cluster of scanners, photocopiers and printers.

Several students said while they use Bass’ printers frequently, their familiarity with the library’s technology services does not extend much further, except occasionally to the student tech desk.

“I’ve asked student techs about the Internet on my computer, and they were very helpful,” Yaron Schwartz ’11 said.

With all of Bass’ research- and technology-based services, Nitecki acknowledged that library administrators need to do more to ensure that students and faculty are aware of and familiar with these services.

She said the library’s Collaborative Learning Center is beginning to hold weekly information sessions for faculty and staff about teaching with technology, and that the library has introduced a series for students about research techniques. For help with research at Bass, Nitecki said librarians and curators offer sessions in courses at the request of faculty, such as in Kamen’s class, as well as occasional talks for the general student public.

‘It’s Yale,’ overpriced or not

Behind all the student activity at Bass is the energy that goes in to powering the building and its amenities. Tom Downing, senior energy engineer for System Engineering Facilities, said it is too early to have gathered sufficient data about energy usage at Bass.

Downing said the library has not been certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which rates the sustainability of buildings based on energy usage and construction materials. Yale has three other LEED-certified buildings on campus: the Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building, the Malone Engineering Center and the Sculpture Building on Edgewood Avenue.

Downing said while he was not aware of any past or present intentions for Bass to be LEED-certified, based on what little data he has, he thinks Bass is “doing quite well” in terms of energy use.

As a coordinator for the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership for Silliman College, Sean Owczarek ’11 said he thinks just as sustainability is a global environmental issue, it should be an issue for the Yale campus. Although he said he had not heard anything about Bass specifically being designed with sustainability in mind, he said STEP, with help from Information Technology Services, runs the same recycling and energy-efficiency programs there as in other libraries on campus.

Just outside the library itself, the sustainable cafe receives heavy student traffic, Nitecki said. With just under 100 seats, she said, the cafe has become a popular spot for informal study gatherings.

“From all reports, many times it is fully occupied,” she said.

YSFP Director Melina Shannon-DiPietro wrote in an e-mail that the lunch hour is the busiest time for the cafe, which serves an average of 600 customers every weekday.

“The sandwiches are amazing, and the hot chocolate is great. It’s really nice to have delicious food — that’s also healthy food — right next to where I’m studying,” Sean Fraga ’10 said.

But some students have complained that menu items are too pricey. Marina Santiago ’10, for one, said she has tried food from the cafe only once — and only because her suitemate was treating her. Otherwise, she said, she simply would not have been willing to pay.

Shannon-DiPietro said the University works to keep prices fair while ensuring that the cafe serves high-quality, sustainable snacks.

“I can’t think of another spot in town where you can get a coffee for $1 or a sandwich with grass-fed beef for the price of the cafe,” Shannon-DiPietro said. “Student access is important to all of us, and we strive to keep prices competitive while providing a product that can’t be matched in terms of quality and sustainability.”

In a letter to the editor that appeared in the News in February, Shannon-DiPietro and the other members of the YSFP staff said the Thain Family Cafe, like all other retail dining locations on campus, receives some subsidization from the University so that it remains an accessible dining option for all students, regardless of financial background.

Shannon-DiPietro added that the average amount of money spent by a customer in a single visit to the cafe is around $3 and that, through dining surveys, students have expressed a desire for sustainable food options on campus.

“It’s an incredibly convenient location, and this is food that’s good for the people who eat it, for the farmers who grow it and for the environment,” she said.

Above all, Shannon-DiPietro said, the cafe — and the library — gives students a place to come together.

“It’s Yale,” she said, “a place of rich intellectual conversation and strong relationships.”

Comments

  • Ben Silliman

    As this article mentions, the single biggest problem with Bass is the reduction in the number of "weenie bins" from the CCL days.

    This becomes more of an issue when a--holes leave their books inside the weenie bins for hours in an effort to "call" them for when they actually want to use them. The Library staff needs to crack down on this, because it's a huge waste of resources and leads to more crowding around the main tables.

    Other than that, Bass is pretty sick.

  • Alum

    WOW - do we get a prize for making it to the end of this article?

    The one thing i dont like about the new CCL (haha) is that it's just WAY TOO QUIET - the old CCL was more open to people like me who like to chat quietly while studying as opposed to the hardcore studiers who sit in scary silence in SML reading rooms/stacks. I hope the life of the place returns soon and not just to the cafe area.