Ngan Vu

Eve Houghton ’17, a curatorial assistant at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, was overjoyed when the library reopened Tuesday after a year of renovations. For her, the annotations of Shakespeare’s plays by Delia Bacon, a 19th-century female playwright, are just one reason why.

“It feels like a homecoming,” Houghton said.

While thousands of tourists admire the building with mouths agape each year, patrons who use the Beinecke for research see — beyond the marble walls and glass casement — a wellspring of texts and papers waiting to be brought alive through careful study.

Mechanical updates and the expansion of research facilities closed the Beinecke in May 2015 and forced the opening of a temporary reading room for items in the Beinecke collection in Sterling Memorial Library. The renovations mark the most recent significant overhaul of the library’s facilities since 2001.

Tuesday’s reopening was welcome news to the Yale librarians for whom the project has been an inconvenience.

“The Beinecke is right at the center of campus geographically,” Houghton said. “To not be in the space for a whole year was, in some ways, quite discomfiting.”


Most returning students will not notice any major cosmetic changes since last year — the architecture, Gutenberg Bible and central reading room have not been changed. The renovations were internal, strengthening the building’s fire-prevention systems and repurposing space on the below-ground courtyard level.

A Chicago-based architectural firm designed the renovations with help from Newman Architects, a New Haven firm. The cost of these renovations was between $50 million and $70 million, according to University library officials.

The number of classrooms on the courtyard level was doubled from two to four, and three new group-work spaces were created on the same floor. These changes will allow Beinecke to accommodate more than the 500 class sessions hosted the year before the renovation, Beinecke Director Edwin Schroeder said. The library also built a teaching lab where students can see a printing press in operation and handle antique inks.

The Beinecke’s temporary closure also sent library staff to new provisional work spaces. During the renovations, reader services and curatorial staff for the Beinecke were housed in Sterling Memorial Library, while technical support moved permanently to the new Yale University Library system hub at 344 Winchester Ave. While the temporary reading room in Sterling was a smaller space than the one usually open in Beinecke, the room’s location and features, such as a shelving annex for library materials requested by patrons, made it the best choice.

“Our researchers continued to come when we were in Sterling in the temporary space, but it’s great to welcome them back,” said Moira Fitzgerald, head of Access Services. “We’re at home now.”

With little fanfare and no ribbon-cutting, the library will undergo a soft opening over the next month. Two library exhibitions — one featuring highlights from the collection, the other a showcase of Yale’s African-American art and literature collection — will open Sept. 23. The library will host an open-house for Yale students the next day.


Beyond the surface change, the renovations protect the most important part of the library: its books.

Beinecke staff highlighted pleasures of working in a library with the papers, journals and private documents of world-famous figures, noting a few of their favorites.

“You get an intimate view of people,” said June Can, Access Services assistant at the library. One letter in the collections reveals a husband’s concerns for his sick wife. The author: Samuel Clemens, more commonly known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

“He was a really caring husband,” Can said of Twain.

In another letter stored in the library, Thomas Jefferson asks a friend for help calibrating some of the cartographic instruments to be sent with Lewis and Clark on their journey west. In particular, Jefferson asks that his friend keep the job secret so he could send the explorers on their way with as little political resistance as possible.

“And he signed it — as president — ‘your Humble Servant.’ You see the character of people,” Can said.

The Beinecke’s diverse collection draws patrons from a wide range of academic fields, but not all of them come for research.

Adrienne Sharpe, an Access Services assistant, recalled helping a graduate student in the Yale School of Music find a score in the library’s music collection.

“He actually started conducting over the music in the reading room,” Sharpe said.


Relocating the library’s collection for storage during the renovation was no small task: 180,000 volumes usually in the Beinecke’s six-story glass tower were moved to safe sites in the library’s basement.

Additionally, over five miles of material — the equivalent of 255,000 books — were moved to an off-campus library shelving facility. Some library material has yet to be shifted back, and will not be returned to Beinecke until later this fall.

The renovations will also make space for the Beinecke to house numerous new materials, including around 20,000 maps previously in Sterling.

Still, the relocation was not without its drawbacks.

Beinecke staff and guests used the International Room in Sterling for classes and workshops over the past year, but that space was much smaller. Previously, the Beinecke hosted up to 15 events each day, but limited space in Sterling only allowed for a maximum of two. Further, patrons could only request five items per day compared to the previous maximum of 10.

Yale is currently completing five other construction projects, all  set to be finished this semester.