Robbie Short

Bass Library is making arrangements to reduce its book collection and renovate to make way for study space in anticipation of the 800 additional students set to arrive over the next four years.

Planning for the project, which remains in its nascent stages and will likely not begin for several years, is being spearheaded by a faculty committee with an undergraduate and graduate student representative. At a faculty meeting hosted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate on Jan. 26, University Librarian Susan Gibbons discussed the planning of the Bass renovations, which was met with considerable criticism among humanities-department faculty.

Gibbons said a Bass Library committee, comprised of members of the Advisory Committee on Library Policy and faculty nominated by the FAS Senate, was formed in the fall semester to plan the relocation of books in the underground library. At the meeting, some faculty voiced concerns about the potential loss of convenience and student engagement.

“Bass can already get quite crowded, and with 800 more students, we are concerned that Bass will become too crowded for students to find it a comfortable and conducive place to study,” Gibbons said. “In order to create additional student study space, we will need to downsize the book collection that is currently in Bass Library.”

According to Gibbons, the Bass project will occur over the summer months so as not to displace students from Bass. Books transferred from Bass will be integrated with the books in Sterling Memorial Library, and Gibbons said that because circulation pattern data show that undergraduates check out books from Bass and Sterling with equal frequency, the relocated books will likely not go unread.

There are 150,000 books in Bass Library, and Gibbons said she does not yet know what the number will be after the downsizing. Still, she said there has been a steep drop in the circulation of books from Bass over the past six years. In the 2009–10 academic year, there were 106,000 circulations as compared to 54,000 in 2015–16.

“Yale is not going to stop buying books, but they are not going to overcrowd Bass with books that are only checked out once a year at the expense of students trying to study and do their homework,” said Aryssa Damron ’18, a student representative on the Bass Library committee.

Damron, who applied for the position in response to a Yale College Council email, said she hopes the project will make current and incoming students more comfortable with the growth of the University through the opening of its two new residential colleges. She added that she does not think students are overly concerned with the accessibility of books in Bass, because data shows most use Orbis to request books rather than going to the shelves themselves.

Damron also said she expects students to be more excited about increased study space — a “hot commodity,” especially during exams.

English professor and FAS Senate member Katie Trumpener said she thinks the faculty committee will soon seek student input on the renovations. She added that student participation in the brainstorming process is “vital,” particularly because undergraduate libraries like Bass exist as places to browse which offer smaller, more accessible collections of books in every field that are likely to be on course syllabi.

Trumpener said it was unfortunate that administrators did not anticipate earlier the need for more study space in light of Yale College’s expansion, particularly before the opening of the new Center for Teaching and Learning, which displaced many librarians’ offices to offsite locations. Trumpener added she worries about projects that could “displace reading and research as the central activities of the library,” and said a large-scale removal of books from Bass widens the gap between the idea of a library as a student center and a library as a mere “book repository.”

“At the faculty meeting, some suggested that many current students didn’t really understand what the undergraduate library was for, and so not using it to that end,” Trumpener said. “I’d plead, in that case, for trying to publicize what Bass is, and trying to revitalize students’ relationship to the book collection there, before abandoning the idea wholesale.”

Still, Trumpener said she and other humanities professors are seeing increasing numbers of students come to class with library copies of texts, rather than those from the store. This would be an inconvenience for students and professors looking to check out or browse books that have been moved to Sterling or the Library Shelving Facility in Hamden, Trumpener said, citing her unsuccessful attempt to retrieve Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lectures on Literature” from the library system last week.

English professor and FAS Senate member Jill Campbell said she agrees that the current layout of Bass is not ideal — for example, there are no maps to encourage navigation of the stacks and no clear efforts to display book selections in “intriguing” ways. Yet Campbell said she is worried about the downsizing, especially if students and faculty are not adequately engaged in the process.

“As technology rapidly changes the ways we read, it is urgent that universities closely study the different experiences and effects of reading in different media, and build their plans about both course instruction and collections around what we know about those differences,” Campbell said.

Research suggests, Campbell said, that reading online and on paper offer different experiences in terms of reading and knowledge retention. She added that the proposal to alter the relationship between books and study space offers an opportunity for the library to work with students and experts to better promote multiple formats of reading and research.

“More is at stake in planning for Bass Library than the most efficient distribution of books, as if books were simply an awkwardly bulky physical accumulation to manage,” Campbell said.

Bass Library was last renovated in 2007.