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The intellectual heart of the campus, Neilson Library advances and celebrates learning, benefitting all who come to Smith. Ground was broken in October 2017 for a New Neilson Library designed by Maya Lin, incorporating the original 1909 structure and reimagining the complex as an intellectual commons. The project is expected to be completed for the fall semester of 2020.
The New Smith Libraries: a vibrant hub for learning, research, and scholarship.
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Here's Your Library!
During construction (2017-2020), visit our libraries - Young, Hillyer & Josten, request books online.
The renovation will feature two new wings, dubbed “jewel boxes” by Maya Lin. The new south wing will bring together special collections—the Sophia Smith Collection, Rare Books and College Archives—creating one-stop access to these important, rich materials and the staff who study and care for them. The new north wing will be filled with spaces to support active learning and scholarship, entrepreneurship and innovation. It will also include a cafe and digital media hub that will bring the community together. Altogether the project will focus on natural light, an energy-efficient design, cutting-edge technology and flexible, collaborative work spaces.
Sunken courtyard and north jewel box: The grounds around the library will be opened up, linking the college’s science quadrangle with center campus and restoring integrity to Frederick Law Olmsted’s original campus plan. An outdoor courtyard garden will allow daylight to stream into the library’s lower level.
West elevation, Burton lawn and amphitheater: At the building’s core is the original 1909 structure, anchoring Neilson’s place in our community and respectfully paying homage to the long history of learning that has taken place inside its walls.
South elevation, view from Green Street: Neilson’s Special Collections are among the most significant college research repositories in the country and represent one of the highest caliber teaching, learning and experiential learning environments at the college. They will now be housed in the south jewel box wing in one visible and accessible location and will incorporate modern technologies such as augmented reality to help users gain insights into the past.
East elevation, Seelye lawn: Rising from both the north and south sides of the building, two softly curved “jewel boxes” underscore Neilson’s status as the intellectual heart of the campus, beckoning visitors to explore Smith’s renowned special collections, rich archives of women’s history, rows upon rows of books and a new café and digital media hub.
Site plan: On the rooftop, patrons will enjoy a new “skyline room” and outdoor patio, providing yet another space to study and take in the surrounding environment.
Main hall, level 2: One of the building’s most distinctive design details will be an ocular sunscoop—a round skylight in the library’s central atrium that will be surrounded by a reflective, curved wall that captures and then magnifies outside light. Maya Lin describes it as a “contemporary sundial at the library’s historic core.”
North jewel box level 3, study and research: In the north wing, library patrons will find study spaces as well as more social spaces—an intellectual commons filled with general collections, rooms that can easily be transformed to accommodate group activities, a café and a digital hub that will connect scholars from around the world to the library’s resources.
Sunken Courtyard: Light-filled study spaces will surround the north wing’s sunken courtyard.
Academic success commons, level 2: Book stacks will surround many of the exterior walls of the building. Compact and underground book storage will also be well utilized.
South jewel box level 3, Special Collections reading room: Within the south wing, the Smith College Archives, the Sophia Smith Collection and Mortimer Rare Books will unite to create a one-stop shop of scholarly material accessible to the community and curated by knowledgeable staff on hand to share their expertise.
Skyline Reading Room: A glass-walled rooftop reading room and adjoining outdoor patio will open up spectacular vistas of the surrounding valley and hills and is designed to function as a reflective study space by day and an active multipurpose events space by night.
First floor site plan: Throughout the building, soft hues, large walls of glass and swaths of natural light will bring the outdoors in, creating a soothing atmosphere in which to reflect, study, explore and enjoy time with classmates and friends.
Creating a sustainable building has been a critical objective in the design and architectural planning process. Shepley Bulfinch has engaged a sustainability consultant firm to assist in assuring that all phases of construction and occupancy reflect the college’s commitment to sustainability. The director of campus planning and sustainability is a member of the program committee as well as the Project Coordinating Team.
The current Neilson Library was built in phases beginning in 1909. The original 1909 “core” of the building will be retained for its historic significance, yet remodeled and brought up to date with current infrastructure and technology.
The design and architect team is working with the college’s Office of Disability Services throughout the project to ensure that students, faculty, staff and visitors with disabilities will have equal access to and be able to participate fully in the new library complex and its programs, services and technology.
The renovation and reimagining of Neilson Library, which includes new construction and renovation of Neilson, the renovation of Alumnae Gym, site preparation and landscaping, is budgeted at approximately $100 million. (In comparison, Ford Hall, opened in 2010, was built for about $70 million.) Funding will come from three sources: borrowing, capital project funds and philanthropy. Some Smith donors are particularly interested in helping to fund the library.
Smith College is committed to fair labor practices and has a long history of successful construction projects on campus utilizing a mix of union and non-union contractors. Learn more...
Engagement with faculty and students took place during fall 2015; design work began in winter 2016. Construction began in the summer of 2017 and is expected to take more than two years. The library staff is maintaining a timeline of the project’s phases.
The Lin/Shepley Bulfinch team was chosen for the project after an international search. Maya Lin’s celebrated work in the combined fields of architecture, art and landscape, coupled with Shepley Bulfinch’s extensive experience in creating 21st-century academic libraries, will create a new library that is not only functional but forward looking.
An important goal in the design and construction of a new Neilson is to create a resilient building with spaces that are flexible and adaptable to changing needs. While we can’t predict what those needs may be, we can design spaces that can respond to technological changes and be reprogrammed for new uses without great cost.
Yes! One of the main goals of the renovation is to create more welcoming, quiet study spaces, as well as spaces for other activities. Maya Lin has spoken a lot about contemplative spaces for work, and that approach is evident in her buildings.
Recommendations for faculty offices as well as other uses of space in the new building are included in the library program planning document, which was developed in fall 2015 by the Library Program Committee, with assistance from the architects, and submitted to the board of trustees in early 2016.
There are no plans to deaccession books. However, the construction of the new Five College Library Annex provides an opportunity for lesser-used collections to be shelved offsite with a quick retrieval system, opening up valuable space in the new library and providing a better organized, easily browsable stack area for the more heavily used collections that remain on campus.
Alumnae Gymasium is included in the program planning for the new Neilson complex. Special collections—the College Archives, the Sophia Smith Collection and the Mortimer Rare Book Collection—will be given pride of place, acknowledging the centrality of these unique and rare materials to the past, present and future of Smith and their important uses in Smith’s curriculum. The collections and services will be co-located.
Alumnae and friends of the college can be part of this exciting initiative by giving to The Smith Fund: Resourceful Smith. Your support will ensure that Neilson Library continues to be a vibrant hub for learning and scholarship.
To learn more about leadership giving opportunities to support the New Neilson, contact Betsy Carpenter '93, director of development at 413-585-2052 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maintaining continuity of service for library patrons is a top priority. Branch libraries will play an enhanced role in the delivery of services. Beginning in June 2017, Young Library became the central library services point on campus. Services at Young include:
The Hillyer Art Library and Josten Performing Arts Library continue to provide study spaces and services. The college is also exploring the possibilities for “adaptive re-use” of spaces around campus—spaces that might, with creative enhancement, better serve multiple student uses. Upgrades and access to these spaces were developed, and improvements were completed by the start of school in the fall of 2017.
See Where's My Library for the latest information on the transition as well as a timeline.
View a gallery of photographs from the groundbreaking on October 19, 2017.
Grécourt Gate: Maya Lin revealed her design for Neilson Library in a community event October 14, 2016.
Maya Lin and architect Carole Wedge discussed the redesign of Neilson Library in September 2015.
Follow our progress, from now until the opening day of the New Neilson Library.
An archive of documents and reports developed during the planning phase of the project.
Libraries news about the New Neilson Library and construction progress updates.