Donation to restore SML atrium

Photo by Blair Seideman.

A $20 million donation that came as part of the Yale Tomorrow Campaign will fund a redesign of the Sterling Memorial Library’s iconic atrium, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach told the News on Wednesday.

The gift, whose donor has thus far remained anonymous, was the product of “a few months” of discussion that concluded before June 30, the end of the five-year Yale Tomorrow Campaign, Reichenbach said. Library administrators said the gift would help restore the Library’s nave — the atrium patrons see upon entering the building that contains the circulation and reference desks — to its “original glory and grandeur” while increasing convenience for patrons.

The renovation is expected to be completed by January 2015, University Librarian Susan Gibbons said.

“It’s a wonderful gift to the Library and will greatly enhance the aesthetics and purposes of the nave area,” said Amanda Patrick, director of library development and communications.

Kendall Crilly MUS ’86 GRD ’92, associate University librarian, said library administrators would collaborate with architects to improve visitor flow, consolidate service desks and make self-serve checkout options available. He added that he renovated space will allow greater capabilities to house exhibits, information panels and interactive kiosks that would allow tourists to learn about the library..

In particular, the left side of the nave, which is currently occupied by empty card catalogue files, will see dramatic changes during the renovations. Most of the files will be removed for “programmatic needs,” Crilly said, adding that a small bit of the catalog may remain to commemorate the library’s history. Crilly added that he thinks the library will move the computers, which are right next to the nave, to the opposite wall and place service desks into the current computer space.

Gibbons said the renovation will allow the library to better serve the Yale community.

“We also want to take advantage of this opportunity to explore how the space can be better utilized to address the needs of the Yale community,” Gibbons added.

Though Gibbons said she and her staff are pleased with the renovation plans, the project will challenge the library’s staff since the restorations will require staff at service desks to temporarily relocate.. She said some exhibits, such as the small display cases near the circulation desk, may be relocated or decommissioned during the renovation.

Gibbons said the library hired Helpern Architects, an architecture firm based in New York, last month to lead the construction and planning of the restoration. The project will be completed in several phases to avoid creating large interruptions for workers and patrons, she said, adding that the architects and engineers will decide what will be restored first.

“The nave cannot be completely closed because it is the main artery to so much within Sterling,” Gibbons said. “So only portions of the nave will be under restoration at any given time.”

Helpern Architects previously worked with Yale on projects including the Betts House and Skinner-Trowbridge House renovations, and has completed projects for other universities, including Columbia University and New York University.


  • The Anti-Yale

    “Crilly added that he thinks the library will move the computers, which are right next to the nave, to the opposite wall and place service desks into the current computer space.”

    I thought the symbolism of having the service desks on the “altar” at the head of the nave was that Sterling patrons (and patronesses?) were worshiping at the Altar of Knowledge. Now they will be brushing by the Altar, perhaps a more accurate description of our attitude toward worship in this secular world (?).

  • ldffly

    I cringed when I saw this. The University’s history in handling some of its great architecture is not good. Check the history going back to 1900. I am really nervous–everybody cross their fingers. I just remember what they did to the Day Missions Room at the Divinity Library.

    • bt

      What did they do to the Day Missions Room at the Divinity Library?

      • ldffly

        The Day Missions Room had been an excellent study area (two level) and library of missions books. They redid the lighting, windows, took out the mid portion of the library and turned it into a display area, and removed the gorgeous chandeliers hanging over the middle of the room. I wish I had photos of the old room to depict the changes. The change was disastrous to the atmosphere, not to mention the original design, though the new windows were more energy efficient. Again, the history of the university in taking care of its architecture has not always been the best.

        (By the way, I was a philosophy major/grad student, and not a divinity student. I did spend some time up at the divinity school in those days. That’s why I’m familiary with the area and buildings.)

        • The Anti-Yale

          Are you so ashamed of having been identified wityh the Divinity School in even this tangential comment that you feel compelled to explain that you were NOT a div student? My, I am really impressed that you have such robust, muscular academic (i,e, non-divinity-school) credentials.


          M. Div ’80 (unashamedly divine)

  • Musicality

    Wow. I really hope they don’t defile the nave with ugly scaffolding/renovation noise for the next three years; it would seriously annoy me (and other people too, probably.)

    Also, I like the service desk where it is. What else would they put there, after all?