Courtesy of Emily Tian

Bass Library reopened its doors to students last Wednesday after being closed for construction all summer. The soft opening on Aug. 28, timed with the first day of classes, allowed students to start using the space to read and study before the renovations are completed at the end of the month.

University Librarian Susan Gibbons explained that planning for the current renovations began in response to the University’s 2014 decision to expand the undergraduate class size by 800 students over four years, which has increased the flow of students throughout the library’s two floors. The specific changes to the space, driven by a user engagement study conducted by anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster in 2018, include new furniture, rearranged shelves and individual carrels with access to courtyards and natural light.

The renovation plans drew criticism from some students and faculty last semester. Leland Stange ’19 penned an op-ed in the Newsthat criticized the decrease in Bass’ book collection and circulated an online petition titled “Save Bass Library!” English professor Leslie Brisman also lamented what he called “a project to turn Bass Library into Bass Lounge” in a February op-ed in the News. Still, students and faculty interviewed about their thoughts on the new space following the soft open responded positively to the renovations.

“It is with immense relief that I see that the renovations of Bass are not as horrific as originally planned,” Brisman wrote in an email to the News.

Brisman applauded “access to the courtyard spaces” and “natural light” but remained apprehensive of the “wasted space” introduced by the wooden cubicles.

Kimberly Wei ’20 also complimented the presence of natural light, saying that she used to not study at Bass “because it was dark.”

Matthew Weisenberg ’22 has previously used group study rooms to collaborate with friends and attend office hours. He noted that the new seating arrangements in the rooms “will add even more of a collaborative atmosphere to Bass and get more people through the door.”

Still, Brisman added that some of the renovations “just baffle[d]” him. Those changes include the new wooden cubicles that “take up a lot of space” and opening up of the study rooms on the lower level to cathedral ceilings.

“Both of these introduce wasted space when the supposed reason for the renovation was to increase study space,” Brismand wrote in an email to the News. “The folly of exhibits of senior projects in this space  — rather than in Sterling, where there is a real need for things to look at in the vast empty spaces — is still with us.”

To free up study space, the library also had to move 89,000 books out of its former 150,000-collection to the Sterling Memorial Library. To decide which titles to retain, Assessment Librarian Sarah Tudesco said the library looked at aggregated user engagement data: in the past decade, the circulation of all Bass materials has been cut in half. In a letter to the Yale community on Aug. 27, Gibbons wrote that the new collection has “a renewed focus on critically acclaimed titles and books written or recommended by Yale faculty,” and a greater representation of disciplines like the arts, sciences, and law. According to Gibbons, the library will acquire an additional 3,000 more volumes every year.

Tudesco emphasized that students can make use of the library’s delivery systems and textbook reserve programs along with physical browsing. She described the Bass collection as a “gateway to all of the different subject areas that Yale library offers.”

Starting next month, the library’s courtyard level will also feature a “Model Research Collection” — a book display on one research topic chosen and curated by faculty member Laura Wexler, which students will be able to use as an example of “the breadth and depth of library resources in a specific subject area,” according to Gibbons’ Aug. 27 email.

“The model research collection gives an example how pursuing one research question may take resources from all around the system in your work,” said Director of Communications Patricia Carey. 

In the coming weeks, students will be able to reserve textbooks, borrow media equipment, or consult the technology troubleshooting office, although some books may remain in transit.

The renovation’s final stages include refinements to the collection, installations of showcase collections and public work stations, and the arrangement of additional furniture, according to Tudesco. Bass Library’s full opening will take place on Oct. 1.

Emily Tian | emily.tian@yale.edu