On May 25, 2006, as the Cross Campus Library was set to undergo a massive renovation that turned it into the plush Bass Library, over 100 Yale staff and faculty gathered to mark the start of construction.
A cake was served with “Farewell Original CCL” written in icing. Attendees stood among balloons and empty shelves. University Librarian Alice Prochaska donned a hard hat and began construction with the strike of a sledgehammer.
Last Friday, the Seeley G. Mudd Library officially closed to the public. There was no cake, no fanfare and no certainty for Mudd’s future.
For 12 to 18 months, University officials say, library staff will catalog over a million of Mudd’s volumes in order to bring them into line with national standards. After that, there is no telling when — if at all — Mudd will reopen to the public. If it does reopen, it will likely have been renovated into a Bass-like space with a café and classrooms. If it does not, Mudd will have been demolished to make room for Yale’s two new residential colleges, and a new Social Science Library (complete with café, of course) will be built nearby.
‘JUST ONE TABLE WITH FOUR CHAIRS’
Sterling Memorial Library was overflowing with books in the 1970s, and it was this dearth of capacity at Yale’s main library that led to calls among administrators for an additional library to be built, Mudd’s eventual architect, Harold Roth ARC ’57, said in an interview Friday.
The initial program proposed was simple as could be: a warehouse in Hamden that would cost little to build and even less to operate. Vans would shuttle books and documents between the Hamden facility and Yale’s campus; few would ever see the inside of this annex library.
“Among all the bookshelves,” Roth said, “there would have been just one table with four chairs.”
Yale was in a weak financial position as it planned for the annex library, however, and such an isolated facility would have been a difficult one for which to attract large donations. (Yale ultimately built the Library Shelving Facility in Hamden in 1999).
When the Los Angeles-based Seeley G. Mudd Fund donated $1.5 million to the project, records show, its generosity came with a number of stipulations: The library would have to be on Yale’s campus proper, would have to feature an inviting entrance and major public space and would have to feature a portrait of the philanthropist who established the eponymous fund, Seeley G. Mudd, in a prominent location.
With these conditions understood, Roth returned to the drawing board and created plans for a library that would at once serve as a storage facility and as a reading and research space for the public.
Sterling professor emertius of the history of art Vincent Scully ’40 GRD ’49 has called Mudd a building of “solid integrity,” and it certainly is in its recall of Louis Kahn’s Yale Center for British Art.
But at the same time that Mudd is an interesting architectural proposition, it is a building of little interest to students and one that few on campus ever enter.
To please the Mudd Fund, Yale’s Government Documents and Information Center is housed in the library. Even with this attraction and the building’s grand entrance, however, Mudd’s reading rooms are often empty, and its second and third floors feel as dark and endless as one imagines the Hamden warehouse might have been.
In many ways, the feeling inside of Mudd is very much by design. Neither Roth nor Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti ’60 envisioned an elaborate building — the architect was responding to the limited program that the University gave him, and the president was running a university far poorer than the Yale of today. (Indeed, to fund the $6.7-million construction of Mudd, Giamatti had to authorize the sale of a Brasher Doubloon coin from the University’s collection in 1981. The coin, one of the most valuable in the world at the time, fetched some $650,000 for the University).
Beside, the library was being built on a quiet part of campus far from all undergraduate housing. Mudd was always more about storage than socializing.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Mudd opened in 1982 on the corner of Sachem and Mansfield streets. Twenty-six years later, that intersection is part of a plot that will soon house two new residential colleges.
Administrators have long emphasized the importance of three non-residential facilities that will be placed alongside the new colleges. University Planner Laura Cruickshank said in an interview last week that plans for these buildings are still very much in preliminary stages.
“What we know,” she said, “is that there will be a theater, somewhere. And there will be an academic building, somewhere. And there will be a Social Science Library, somewhere.”
Cruickshank added that the academic building will likely be placed on the east side of Prospect Street, opposite the new colleges and on land currently occupied by the School of Management.
The library and theater, she said, will be on the west side of Prospect Street, located adjacent to the new colleges.
This site, north of the Grove Street Cemetery and south of Sachem Street, currently houses three buildings that could conceivably be preserved and renovated for use alongside the colleges: Brewster Hall, Hammond Hall and the Mudd Library.
Hammond Hall would be about the right size for a theater, but little about the fate of that building or any on the site is certain.
A LONELY FAREWELL
What is clear is that the Mudd Library of today does not make much sense for the site of the two new colleges. Jill Parchuck, director of the Social Science Libraries, called Mudd “a fine high-density, low-usage facility.”
But what Parchuck and Prochaska, the University librarian, have in mind is something far different: a “21st-century information center.”
This proposed library would consolidate the current Social Science Library on Prospect Street— which, Prochaska said in an interview, will almost definitely be torn down for the new-college complex — with the Mudd Library.
It would house a café, classroom and meeting spaces, some social science books, and many computer and information kiosks.
The question of whether the Mudd Library could ever perform these functions is a difficult one to answer.
Roth, the architect, was quick to point out that the building could easily be retrofitted to accommodate different activities. Windows could be added, he said, and new life could be breathed into the building with ease.
Walking around Mudd on Friday, however, such a renovation was difficult to imagine. Few visitors came to bid farewell to Mudd — although Friday afternoons in September are not bustling times for any of Yale’s libraries — and those who did had a hard time jostling the front door open after it became stuck.
Jeremi Szaniawski GRD ’10 was taking pictures as he walked around Mudd for what he said would likely be the last time.
In some sense, it was fitting that he was so alone at Mudd on Friday.
“I’ve always liked Mudd, partly because it’s always so empty,” he said. “It’s nothing fancy, but it has its own feel, its own quiet charm.”
For now, Mudd will remain nothing fancy. While it is closed for cataloging, patrons can request any of its volumes to be delivered to any other Yale library. In that way, Mudd has finally turned into the warehouse it was initially meant to be.
The question now is whether Mudd will morph again or be left behind in Yale’s ambitious expansion.