As the Yale community learns more about the plans for Bass Library’s impending renovation — which will include reducing the number of books on its shelves by two-thirds and potentially closing the library for the fall 2019 semester — concerns from surprised students and faculty have grown louder, prompting response from library administration.
Bass Library is slated to undergo renovations following this year’s Commencement, with the library set to open in January 2020, at the latest. The renovations will include shifting librarian offices from the bottom floor to the top to improve their accessibility, eliminating shelf space to create more room for study seating and shifting books from Bass to the Sterling Memorial Library. After the renovation, Bass will likely house just 50,000 books out of the current 150,000.
“Almost no students on campus are aware that Bass Library is going to be closed in the fall,” said Yale College Council President Saloni Rao ’20. “They’re like, ‘Are they opening another study space?’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t really tell you.’ And as president of the student body, if I can’t really tell you, there needs to be a heightened awareness about the issue at least.”
Recently, the community became more aware of the plan and the timeline after News staff columnist Leland Stange ’19 and English professor Leslie Brisman wrote opinion pieces for the News in opposition to the renovation plan. Additionally, Stange created a Facebook event on Sunday called “Browse Bass: Save Our Library” — in the description, he urges students to check out Bass books to raise Bass circulation numbers. As of Tuesday night, the event has 950 people marked as “going.”
In response to the op-eds published in the News, University Librarian Susan Gibbons sent a project update email to students on Tuesday morning outlining the current renovation plan and its timeline.
“In 2017, as we started planning, we hoped that construction could be achieved over one summer, but, as the project took shape, we learned it would take longer,” Gibbons wrote in the email. “We are now scheduled to start work after Commencement and finish by no later than the end of the fall semester. We are currently developing our plans for temporary relocation of Bass services and will share those with you in a few weeks.”
In her email, Gibbons wrote that the books will be transferred from Bass to Sterling Memorial Library and will remain fully accessible to Yale students. She pointed out that 40,000 of the books currently in Bass’ collection are duplicate copies, and 70 percent of the books were acquired before 2003 “and haven’t been checked out in years.” The post-renovation collection will be “more vital and relevant,” she wrote, with an emphasis on books written by Yale faculty and books related to the current undergraduate curriculum.
Gibbons also noted that the library is planning to relocate Bass services to Sterling for the fall semester, and is considering extending Sterling’s hours to accomodate for Bass’ temporary closure.
According to chair of the project’s planning committee Librarian for Assessment Sarah Tudesco, the Bass book collection is only one percent of Yale’s overall library collection and was “never intended to be representative.” She said that she encourages students to browse the Sterling stacks, and the library administration is “using any opportunity [they] can to talk about that with the community to help them understand what [they are] trying to do and work with them to make sure [the renovated library] meets their needs.”
Still, following Gibbons’ project updates email, Brisman maintained that “there is no reason for any construction in Bass, let alone any construction that would close the library for a term.”
“Reducing the collection from 150,000 to 75,000 can be accomplished while the library is open and functioning, and then when books are shelved on half the existing stacks, seating could be added — preferably seating in the beautiful mode of the present seating,” Brisman said.
Also following Gibbons’ email, Stange circulated an online petition on Tuesday afternoon called “Save Bass Library!” As of Tuesday night, the petition garnered 303 signatures.
The petition calls for three items: halting the renovation plans “until student and faculty feedback is thoughtfully considered,” wrapping up renovations before the beginning of the fall semester and reducing the number of books in the library to no less than 100,000.
In response to these demands, Gibbons told the News that the library’s team has been gathering student and faculty feedback about the project since 2017 through public forums, news articles and an ethnographic study. She added that the library will “continue to consider input and ideas through the renovation period” and make necessary modifications.
Gibbons also said that it is not feasible for the library to promise that the renovations will be finished before the fall semester, since the renovation plans are not yet finalized. She also emphasized that keeping enough shelves to hold 100,000 books is not “compatible” with the renovation’s main goal — expansion of the study space available to students in Bass.
“The absolute number of books is less meaningful than the quality of the collection,” Gibbons wrote in an email to the News. “We are committed to developing a more robust and relevant Bass collection that can also serve as a gateway to the library’s combined collections of 12 million books and other items.”
Despite the influx of criticism, Library Administrative Services Director of Communications and Marketing Patricia Carey said that library administrators are glad that more students are now voicing their opinions about the renovation.
“We are really pleased that so many people are interested in Bass,” Carey said. “Because the project has been going along and we were asking for feedback and we weren’t hearing that much. It’s good for people to know that the project is going forward, but none of the details are set in stone, so getting that input now from people is very valuable.”
Bass was formerly known as Cross Campus Library.
Asha Prihar | firstname.lastname@example.org