The majestic entrance nave in Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library (SML) reopens to the public on Monday, Aug. 25, marking the completion of a major restoration project that has returned the nave to its original architectural splendor and brought about improvements that will better serve the needs of library users in the 21st century.
The restoration, which took 18 months, was made possible by a gift from Richard Gilder ’54 and Lois Chiles, in honor of President Emeritus Richard C. Levin ’74 Ph.D. and Jane A. Levin ’75 Ph.D.
“We are enormously grateful to Richard Gilder and Lois Chiles for realizing this spectacular restoration, which has returned a cherished landmark to its original beauty and made our library more efficient, intuitive, and welcoming,” says Susan Gibbons, university librarian. “This is a historic day for all those who love and use this magnificent place.”
The university selected Helpern Architects in New York to lead the restoration, which started in the summer of 2013. The challenge was to restore the nave in keeping with its 1930 design by James Gamble Rogers, while at the same time modernizing the space in a manner that would incorporate services and technologies to better serve library users.
"We all know that the library is the heart of the university,” said Yale University President Peter Salovey. “I am delighted that this beautiful and inspiring campus space has been renovated to provide better access to Yale's world class collections, and to give students and scholars modern space to study and reflect under the watchful eye of the brilliantly restored mural, Alma Mater. I am doubly-pleased that the space was renovated in honor of Jane and Rick Levin."
A major component of the project was a complete restoration of the nave’s stained glass windows, which are among the approximately 3,300 windows that artist G. Owen Bonawit designed for placement throughout the library.
The three service desks in the nave — circulation, information, and library privileges — were combined into a single service desk in the north aisle. The built-in card catalogues, which were at one time a prominent feature of the original nave, have been reduced, while some have been preserved in place. The resulting open space now holds computer workstations and seating areas for conversation and study. The number of self-service options in the nave has increased greatly. Library users can now check out their own library materials, scan paper materials and microfilms, and retrieve items on hold for them. The new security desk at High Street incorporates upgraded technologies for the protection of users and library materials.
The restoration also included thoroughly cleaning all of the stone surfaces, highlighting the contrast between alternating blocks of limestone and sandstone; cleaning and restoring the plaster and wood ceilings; installing new lighting and environmental controls, and restoring the mural painting of Alma Mater.
“The restoration has shown that the nave is even more beautiful than we imagined it,” said architect David Helpern. “What surprised us is how easily the nave and its peripheral spaces could be adapted to new uses — but integrating all the 21st-century technology? That was a challenge! We think that James Gamble Rogers would be pleased.”
The Yale Library will be hosting an open house to celebrate the reopening of the restored nave on Thursday, Sept. 18, 3-5 p.m. Staff will be on hand to give informal tours, and refreshments will be served. All are welcome.
Yale University Library
One of the world's leading research libraries, the Yale University Library fosters intellectual growth and supports the teaching and research missions of the university and scholarly communities worldwide. Its resources include more than 15 million volumes and information in all media, ranging from ancient papyri to early printed books, and from digital collections to electronic databases.
Sterling Memorial Library
Built with funds from the bequest of John W. Sterling B.A. 1864, and designed by architect James Gamble Rogers B.A. 1889, Sterling Memorial Library opened in 1930. In designing the building, Rogers wanted the library to be centrally located on the Yale campus. He chose to incorporate the Collegiate Gothic style that was prevalent on campuses throughout the United States. The architectural elements in the entrance nave are reminiscent of gothic cathedral architecture. The windows of the nave, which were designed by G. Owen Bonawit, illustrate important events from the history of Yale and of New Haven.