A month after library administrators adjusted Bass Library renovation plans in response to outcry from students and faculty, University Librarian Susan Gibbons announced updates on the project’s progress Wednesday afternoon.
In an email to Yale students and faculty, Gibbons shared details about the library’s plans for the post-renovation book collection, the design of the renovated space and the finalized renovation schedule. While she told the News that the design and schedule plans for the project have “not changed substantially,” Gibbons said that the development of the new Bass book collection has experienced “major movement” in the last month and that the “parameters and process for building the post-renovation collection are taking shape.”
“We are excited about the opportunity to refresh and renew the Bass Collection, to align it more closely with the undergraduate curriculum and to make it more dynamic over time,” Gibbons wrote in an email to the News. “We hope students will use it as a gateway to the full array of Yale library collections, services, and staff expertise.”
This Wednesday’s email reiterated that the library team is working toward holding a soft opening by Aug. 28 and a full opening by Oct. 1. The email stated that the library will close “immediately after exams end on May 8.” Then, the library will begin relocating books to Sterling and readying the space for construction, which is slated to begin May 21. According to the message, the library administration will continue sending updates on the project’s progress to the community.
The email also announced that the library has assembled a team of librarians to review and update the Bass book collection, which will be led by Jae Rossman, the director of the Department of Area Studies and Humanities Research Support, and Sarah Tudesco, the assessment librarian. The team has already assembled a list of 35,000 titles — including those that have been added to the collection, checked out by an undergraduate in the past five years or placed on reserve in the past 10 — to act as a “starting point” for the reduced 61,000-title collection, the email said.
In addition to shaping the immediate post-renovation collection, the email said that the team will design a “review and renewal process” to ensure the relevance of the collection in the coming years, which Gibbons said will include faculty input. According to Gibbons, the renewal process could include shifting books between the Bass and Sterling stacks as new courses are added and dropped from the curriculum and as faculty research interests shift.
The email highlighted that the library wants to collaborate with faculty to shape the new collection and encouraged faculty to submit a collections request form to share the titles on their current syllabi with the library to ensure that print copies of those books are available.
In the email, Gibbons said that the renovation will leave Bass with a more open upper level, more natural light and “greater visibility of existing architectural detail” than the current space. She went on to say that the University will keep 65 percent of the current Bass furniture and buy new seating options.
“The genesis of this project was to expand study space,” said Rossman. “At the same time, we are taking full advantage of this opportunity to review and rethink the collection to increase student engagement not only with the books in Bass but with the entire range of Yale library collections and services. The physical collection is one very important part of that equation, along with librarian expertise and other services.”
In February, an earlier iteration of the Bass renovation plans drew widespread criticism from students and faculty. The plan included closing the library from this year’s Commencement until January 2020, adding 105 new study spaces and relocating 110,000 of Bass’ current 150,000 books to the Sterling Memorial Library stacks.
After members of the Yale community expressed their discontent with the renovation timeline and drastic book reduction through op-eds published in the News and a “Browse Bass” campaign that encouraged a mass checking out of books from the library to elevate circulation numbers, Gibbons announced several modifications to the library plans in a Feb. 7 email to the Yale community.
English professor Leslie Brisman, who has previously criticized library administrators’ approach and penned an op-ed for the News on Feb. 1 opposing the original Bass renovation plan, said that he read about the revised plans with “great relief” since the library administration is “pay[ing] at least token homage to faculty and student concern.” While he said that he is disappointed in the choices to introduce lower shelves and create an “airport concourse”-like atmosphere on the library’s upper level, he is grateful that the current design plan is “not as bad as its predecessors.”
Brisman added that the plans for “culling” the library’s collection seem “reasonable.”
“[T]hough the total number is smaller than I would wish, it at least involves an effort to keep the truly unique feature of Yale’s undergraduate library, a library where students can feel that faculty members and librarians together have tried to make easily accessible a choice of the books to go to first,” Brisman said.
Leland Stange ’19, a staff columnist for the News who spearheaded the effort to “save Bass” last month, said that it was good that Gibbons “has made the culling process far more explicit to faculty and students and was clear about communication on the project going forward.”
Stange added that he believes the student and faculty discourse surrounding Bass has prompted library administrators to be more transparent. While he said he is not “entirely optimistic” and finds Gibbons’ statements “bureaucratic,” he is glad to see the library respond to the community concerns raised last month.
“Student and faculty responses exposed that more people than administrators originally thought actually care about books, the way Bass looks and the role it and other libraries play on campus — whether administrators explicitly mention it or not, the pushback was real,” Stange said. “Gibbons’ email, above all, shows that library administrators will have to [be] far more careful in decision-making going forward, and I hope faculty and student engagement remains alive with this project and any others in the future.”
Bass Library was formerly known as Cross Campus Library.
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