Beinecke renovations to close library for a year

Beinecke
Photo by Joyce Xi.

University administrators are planning a major renovation of the heating, air conditioning, and humidity systems of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library — a project that will require the library to close for a full year.

The equipment in the Beinecke basement is almost 50 years old and must be replaced to prevent the books and manuscripts in the library from deteriorating, Provost Benjamin Polak told the News. Though it has yet to review the project for final approval, the Yale Corporation allotted $2.4 million in planning funding to the project in early April.

Beinecke Director and Associate University Librarian E.C. Schroeder declined to comment on when the renovation may begin, but he said Beinecke staff members intend to work with the Office of Facilities to present a final budget and project plan to the Corporation during the 2013-’14 academic year. During the year-long renovation, which is projected to cost between $50 million and $70 million, the building itself will be closed, but librarians said students, faculty and researchers will still have access to the Beinecke’s materials.

“Everyone knows it has to happen,” Schroeder said. “We see our major mission as preserving materials for future generations of students and scholars, and if we want to make that possible, we’ve got to do this project.”

Preserving fragile books and manuscripts requires maintaining a specified temperature and humidity level at all times, Schroeder said, so when the machinery controlling those levels grows old and less efficient, it can no longer provide a safe environment for the materials. If the Beinecke keeps using its existing equipment, which was installed in the 1960s, visitors will be able to see deterioration in the condition of books and manuscripts over the next 25 to 30 years, he said.

Since the Beinecke will be closed for a year for its primary renovations, it makes sense to squeeze in as many repairs as possible, such as upgrading its electrical and fire suppression systems, Schroeder said. Though the renovation primarily involves “all the guts of the building down in our basement,” Schroeder said the roof under the marble courtyard also needs to be replaced because it is deteriorating.

University Librarian Susan Gibbons said library staff are discussing how to minimize the inconvenience the Beinecke’s closure will pose for patrons.

“We are exploring how the Sterling Library could be used as a temporary, secure reading room for the Beinecke Library during the renovations,” Gibbons said in an email to the News.

Schroeder said patrons will have to request Beinecke materials in advance because some books and manuscripts will have to be temporarily relocated to the Library Shelving Facility — a series of large warehouses in Hamden, Conn., that houses overflow from Yale’s libraries. Librarians will aim to make the requesting process “as seamless and straightforward as possible,” he said.

But Schroeder said most of the Beinecke’s programming will be put on hold during the renovation. Though the library hosted over 200 class sessions this semester, the Beinecke will be able to hold “only a handful” during the renovation, and these sessions will have to be held in a different building, he said.

“We’re not going to be able to have exhibits, we can’t host as many classes, we’re not going to be able to have a number of events, and that’s unfortunate,” Schroeder said.

The renovation of the Beinecke has been in the works for years, Schroeder said, and some early projects such as the replacement of the roof under the Beinecke Plaza and the upgrade of the exhibit cases took place during the 2000s. But the recession caused the University to stall the renovation of the temperature and humidity systems.

Schroeder said the planned renovation will be entirely funded within the Beinecke’s budget.

“That’s part of the reason we were able to move ahead,” Schroeder said. “We’ve been saving out of the budget for each year.”

The planning funding for the Beinecke renovation was approved as part of a $375 million capital budget for the 2013-’14 academic year.

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