A few years ago, University President Richard Levin dispatched one of his senior aides to tour a distinguished family around the University. The family, whose daughter was applying to colleges, asked to see Yale’s most popular undergraduate library.

The aide paused. First she took the family to the library in Berkeley College. Next, she tried to pass off Sterling Memorial Library’s music library as a popular student study space. The family members didn’t buy it — they wanted to see Cross Campus Library.

So the group went there — and the daughter went to Stanford, Levin recalled at the dedication of the new Bass Library on Friday.

“I don’t think that will happen anymore,” he said, drawing laughs from the more than 150 well-heeled alumni who gathered for the ceremony at Bass, a shining example of how $50 million can turn a forlorn, sterile wasteland into a comfortable study space.

Too comfortable, perhaps.

More than a few students who came to the library to study Friday expressed dismay that administrators had commandeered the whole of Bass to throw what they said was essentially a photo opportunity and party for some of Yale’s largest donors. The library — which houses the collections used most frequently by Yale undergraduates — was closed for the entire day, although the dedication itself only lasted slightly over 45 minutes.

In just a few minutes Friday afternoon, student after student descended the stairs into Bass, only to find a sign asking them to study elsewhere. Students were not permitted at the event and administrators only allowed a News reporter to attend on the condition that he not talk to anyone in attendance.

“I’m disappointed, especially at this time of the year,” Jeremy Harris ’10 said after finding the library shuttered for the private donor fete. “I have research papers to do.”

But inside the library, there was no disappointment.

No one in attendance missed the “intensely fluorescent world that was CCL,” longtime library staffer Claire Halloran said when she addressed the crowd. Gone were the stained, leaking ceilings of the old library and the vending machines of Machine City.

One by one, well-dressed alumni descended into Bass’ bowels and took turns recalling memories of what was, in Levin’s words, “a rather sterile example of late 1960s squalor.”

The crowd contained more than a few Yale dignitaries and lead donors for the project. In attendance were new Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain and his wife, Carmen, the parents of Nicole Thain ’08 and the donors of the Thain Family Cafe, as well as Morgan Stanley managing director William Wright ’82, the benefactor of the new Wright Reading Room.

“I spent days and nights in CCL and the stacks … and I perhaps spent a small fortune in Machine City,” Wright recalled Friday to laughter from the crowd. “Never did I imagine a day like today would happen.”

Absent were Anne and Robert Bass ’71, whose eight-figure gift landed them the naming rights to the library. Robert Bass declined to attend because he and his wife prefer to avoid the limelight, Levin said at the dedication.

The library reopened at the crack of midnight Oct. 19 after a nearly 18-month renovation that completely gutted the former CCL. More than 1,000 students attended the library’s opening, rushing into the library and chanting “We love books!” as a brass quintet played Yale fight songs outside.

The dedication Friday came on a second day of library-related festivities. Earlier in the day, donors and interested students were invited to attend two panel discussions, one on the arts-and-crafts-influenced ornamentation in Bass and another on the architecture of Yale’s various libraries.

At the latter panel, the architect of the renovation, former Yale School of Architecture Dean Thomas Beeby ARC ’65 — now of Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge — said when he first began the project, he recommended installing skylights throughout Cross Campus in order to bring natural light into the library.

Similar skylights were included in the original 1969 plans for CCL. But Yale students forcibly blocked construction of the library in defense of the grassy purity of Cross Campus, and the University quickly changed its plan and scrapped the skylights.

This time around, administrators did not wait for a protest. Beeby said they told him to get rid of his skylights — and to do it quickly.

—Sam Pilku contributed reporting.