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The Reformation comes to Sterling Library

One of the brightest spots so far in the nascent academic year is the reopening of Sterling Memorial Library's main hall—often called the nave because of the space’s resemblance to a church—after an 18-month restoration. Students came back to find the space beautifully cleaned, making painted ceilings, variations in stone color, and stained glass stand out as they haven't in decades.

We'll be doing a feature on the library in an upcoming issue of the magazine, but one of the things worth mentioning now is how the function of the space has been reconfigured. The skylit space just south of the nave, which was once full of card catalogs, now has chairs and tables where students can study. The corresponding space on the north side of the nave has desks from which library staff can help users. (See additional photos above.)

And, most remarkably, the circulation desk—the altar in this metaphorical church, once accessible only to library employees—has been replaced by with an open space with scanners and stations where users can check out books themselves, self-service style.

It's nothing less than a Reformation, really: once, the altar was the exclusive province of the priestly librarian class, whose intercession was necessary for the laity to obtain knowledge. Now, it’s as if communion were being offered buffet-style. What must Alma Mater think? (Whatever she thinks, she has cleaned up pretty well, too.)

For more photos, see the library's Flickr gallery.


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under architecture, Sterling Memorial Library

1 comment

  • Scott Fletcher
    Scott Fletcher, 11:50am September 06 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    When the time comes to update Cross Campus Library, can we expect a counter-reformation in exuberant baroque?

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