Renovated Bass Library is a ‘gateway’ to research and learning
The newly renovated Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Library features expanded study space, increased natural lighting, and a revitalized collection meant to spark curiosity and inspire scholarship.
Following a month-long soft opening in which students acquainted themselves with the rejuvenated space, Susan Gibbons, the Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian, officially reopened the library during an event on Oct. 1.
“Bass is an important center of student life,” Gibbons said, adding that students visit the library to access a range of services, such as to loan media equipment, access textbooks on reserve, and receive research support. “We hope that this renovation will make it easier and more convenient for you to use the library’s resources and services.”
Gibbons thanked students for offering input that guided key aspects of the renovation, such as the reconfiguration of the library’s seating. Study carrels, long tables, and a variety of soft seating were added. She pointed out two new librarian offices at the far end of the underground library’s top level where undergraduates can seek help with research questions.
A major component of the renovation involved re-evaluating and rebuilding the Bass Library’s collection, which has been consolidated in stacks on the library’s lower level. As part of the process, library staff analyzed content and usage of the Bass collection. As a result of this work, more than 35% of the 61,000 volumes in the post-renovation collection are new to the Bass Library. Disciplines that were under-represented before the renovation, such as the arts, sciences, and law, have a proportionally larger presence in the new collection. Going forward, the collection will be dynamic, with up to 3,000 new titles added per year, Gibbons explained.
“We’re committed to actively managing this collection so it will evolve along with teaching, learning, research, and practice at Yale,” said Gibbons, who is vice provost for collections and scholarly communication. “I want to stress that no books were lost in this process, so if there is a book you’re looking for and it’s not downstairs, you’re going to find it upstairs in the Sterling Library.”
A new display just inside the library’s main entrance titled “Building the Bass Library Collection” provides insight into the thought that subject librarians put into selecting books for the library’s stacks. It features books on a variety of subjects, including paleontology, Yale history, witchcraft in 17th-century Russia, and anti-Mexican violence in Texas, with a blurb from a librarian explaining why the title belongs in the collection.
The Bass Library’s collection is intended to pique interest and encourage students to ask questions and explore the wider Yale Library’s collections as they search for answers, Gibbons explained.
“We hope you’ll use the Bass Library collection as a starting collection, as a gateway,” she said. “It is not intended to be a stand-alone collection, rather it’s to give you a sense of what you can find throughout the whole library system across many different formats and libraries.”
“The Model Research Collection,” a new rotating installation on the library’s upper floor, offers a window into how researchers use the Yale Library’s collections and resources to investigate specific topics and questions. The inaugural collection, “Find a Set/Find a Text,” is curated by Laura Wexler, professor of American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.
Wexler, a renowned scholar of photography, named the collection after the culminating assignment she has given her students over 30 years of teaching about the social life of photographs: Find a set, find a text; read the set against the text.
The assignment distills what Wexler has learned over decades of working with photographs, she explained. First, working with single photographs is insufficient — at least two are needed to compare and contrast. This draws on set theory, which is a branch of mathematical logic that holds that the individual components of a set are less important than the borders that define it, she noted. The word “text” comes from literature.
“For those studying visual culture, you know that the information, or the affect, or what you learn from a photograph never exactly matches the language used to describe it or the texts that are related to it,” she said. “It is in that disjunction that a dialectical relationship appears newly to each student and to me each time I do it.”
Wexler chose six signal works — books and essays she has written and her “Photogrammar” digital project — to display the network of relations between the visual image and the written word.
“It is interwoven,” she said. “You don’t look at a photograph alone and, for me, I don’t read a book alone. My thinking is entirely interstitial between the two.”
Each project is represented by a set of books, materials, and images Wexler studied and consulted in the course of her work on it, as well as books she uses in teaching.
In thanking library staff members who contributed to the installation, Wexler reminded those gathered that nobody really works alone while in a Yale library.
“If you think you are in the library alone, you are deeply mistaken,” she said. “We are not alone in discovering what access there is in the library system; what portals exist; what places to go and things to see.”