Yale University's Planned Renovation of Bass Library Draws Ire from Students

Yale University is moving forward with a plan to renovate Bass Library after commencement this spring, but the renovation has irked members of the community because part of the project involves removing 84,000 of the library's 145,000 volumes--a full 58%--and permanently housing them in nearby Sterling Memorial Library. 


University librarian Susan Gibbons has said in various interviews that the books are being moved to make more studying space available as the student body grows. "I don't think that, as a result of this project, students are going to have less access to the books -- they're all still here on-campus," she said in an interview with NPR's Frankie Graziano. "But, what they will have access to is more places to actually sit down amongst the books and do that studying." Gibbons also said that the way students use Bass has changed with the times, citing a decrease in students checking out books for the sciences and math programs, but usage among Humanities majors has stayed the same. According to a recent Yale press release, borrowing among undergraduates has dropped from 40% of total circulation in 2008 to just 13% in 2018. Coupled with a growing student body, university administrators feel repurposing the stacks into seating would be a better use of the space.


Gibbons acknowledged the enduring importance of books, especially in a library. Yale's plan for the library going forward includes, as Gibbons said in the press release, "maintaining a more dynamic, up-to-date collection in Bass that will evolve with the addition of new courses and encourage students' engagement with print books." That engagement includes what she called a "renewed focus" on books by Yale faculty. "The collection will be smaller, but more vital and relevant."

  

Opened in 1971, the Bass Library last underwent a $50 million interior renovation in 2007. 

   

Some Yale students aren't having it. Humanities and philosophy major Leland Strange is leading what he's dubbed a "browse-in," a mass check-out of books from Bass to protest the move. Fellow students worry that a denuded Bass will resemble an airport terminal rather than a library. Other students fretted that the whole point of a library is to have access to materials, whether they're on regular rotation or have never been checked out. 


Despite students' efforts, Yale appears poised to move ahead with the renovation, which is expected to be completed by October 1, with a "soft roll-out" planned for late August.