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As the intellectual heart of the campus, Neilson Library advances and celebrates learning, benefiting all who come to Smith. Ground was broken in October 2017 for a new Neilson Library designed by renowned architectural designer Maya Lin. Her vision incorporates the original 1909 facade and reimagines the complex as an intellectual commons. The project is expected to be completed in late fall 2020.
The new Smith Libraries: a vibrant hub for learning, research and scholarship.
Get the latest construction updates and track progress with live webcams.
Follow our progress, from now until the opening day of the New Neilson Library.
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. Natural light, an energy-efficient design, cutting-edge technology and flexible, collaborative workspaces will combine to create a one-of-a-kind library for Smith’s next century.
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.
East elevation at night
North elevation, view from Chapin Lawn: Strategically placed window walls ensure natural lighting for the café, study spaces, and reading rooms in the north jewel box.
North elevation at night
Sunken courtyard, north jewel box, and amphitheater: 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. A sunken courtyard garden will allow daylight to stream into the library’s ground floor, while a wheelchair accessible outdoor amphitheater will provide shaded seating for studying, socializing, and outdoor events.
Sunken courtyard and north jewel box at night
West elevation, amphitheater and Burton lawn entrance: At the building’s core is the original 1909 facade, anchoring Neilson’s place in our community and respectfully paying homage to the long history of learning that has taken place inside its walls.
West elevation at night
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, research and experiential learning environments at the college. The collections will be enclosed in the center of the south jewel box wing in one visible and accessible location.
South elevation at night: The south wing incorporates an underground tunnel that connects the Neilson Library to the Alumnae Gym, which will house additional Libraries staff and technology spaces, and serve as a 24-hour study space.
Ground Floor Central Hall: This floor will open onto Burton lawn. Visitors will find a Central Service Point for Library and Information services; research librarians, instructional technologists, and spatial analysts will provide collaboration and support for the Smith community.
Digital Media Hub, Ground Floor: This level will contain a Digital Media Hub, book stacks, technology and library instruction classrooms, recording studios, and a number of collaboration spaces.
Sunken Courtyard, Ground Floor: Light-filled study spaces and book stacks will surround the north wing’s sunken courtyard.
Central Hall, 1st Floor: One of the building’s most distinctive design details will be an oculus—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 Café, 1st Floor: The center of the north jewel box opens up to a skylight on the 3rd floor, allowing sunlight to travel through the wing.
Conway Center, 1st Floor: The Jill Ker Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center hosts and facilitates a slate of programs and activities focused on creative thinking, problem solving, interdisciplinary teamwork and development of business and entrepreneurial skills. The east portion of the building will also feature a large Browsing Room.
Learning Commons, 1st Floor: This area will offer a number of support services for students. Staff from the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching and Learning; the Spinelli Center for Quantitative Learning; the Office of Disability Services; and Wellness Services, as well as research librarians, academic technologists and more will be available for consultation.
Learning Commons, 2nd Floor: Book stacks will surround many of the exterior walls of the building. Compact and underground book storage will also be well utilized. The 2nd floor will also include the Caverno Room, a Reflection Room where students can pray and meditate, and a seminar classroom, one of two in the building that will be available for campus use.
North Jewel Box Study Space, 3rd Floor: The new library will include a variety of tables, chairs, study carrels, bench nooks, and seating options, as well as quiet study spaces.
South Jewel Box Special Collections Reading Room, 3rd Floor: Within the south wing, the Smith College Archives, the Sophia Smith Collection and Mortimer Rare Book Collection will unite to make scholarly material accessible to the community and curated by knowledgeable staff on hand to share their expertise.
Reading Room, 3rd Floor: A variety of study space options will be designated on this level, from open space areas to reservable group study rooms. The 2nd and 3rd floors will have individual study carrels; the building is designed to be successively quieter on each floor as visitors travel upward.
Skyline Reading Room, 4th Floor: This room will primarily be open as study space; a full catering kitchen will support the room’s occasional use as an event space. Visitors will also enjoy the outdoor patio, which will provide another space to study. On three sides of the patio, spectacular sitelines of the surrounding valley and Holyoke Range will be visible.
Skyline Reading Room, 4th Floor: From this floor, visitors can look through the top of the oculus, which extends down to the ground floor and provides sunlight for the center core of the library.
Site plan: The building project is aiming for LEED Gold certification. Architects and contractors are prioritizing natural materials (wood, stone, glass) and are sourcing local materials as much as possible. The college is considering a number of options for landscape design; possibilities include planting lawn alternatives, incorporating species that will thrive in a warming climate, and using native trees and shrubs, which provide habitats for birds and bees. The landscape plan will be finalized in 2020.
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 building is aiming for LEED Gold certification, and wherever possible it is being constructed without materials on the Living Building Challenge "Red List." This means that flooring, paint, insulation, ceiling tiles, etc. will avoid common environmental toxins. The project also prioritizes natural materials (wood, stone, glass) and is sourcing local materials as much as possible.
The current Neilson Library was built in phases beginning in 1909. The original 1909 facade of the building will be retained for its historic significance, yet remodeled and brought up to date with current infrastructure and technology.
The newly-renovated Alumnae Gym will provide additional library spaces, including a User Experience Lab, specialized printing room, collaborative workspaces, study spaces, a production studio, experiential studios and a computer lab. Alumnae Gym will be connected to the Neilson Library via a tunnel lit by skylights, and will provide a 24-hour study space for Smith students.
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 $120 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. Learn more about making a gift in support of the new Neilson.
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 collection and staff are expected to begin moving in starting in late fall 2020. 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. The Neilson Library will also connect to Alumnae Gym, which will be a 24-hour study space.
There will be no faculty offices in the new Neilson, but there will be a number of classrooms and collaboration spaces available for faculty use. For details on recommendations on uses of space in the new building, please see the library program planning document. This document 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.
The College Archives, Sophia Smith Collection and the Mortimer Rare Book Collection have combined to form a unified Special Collections department within the Libraries. These collections, staff and teaching spaces will fill the south wing of the new Neilson Library. Bringing our Special Collections into Neilson facilitates access and use of these unique and rare materials and their important uses in Smith’s curriculum.
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.
For current information on library services, see Library Services During COVID-19.
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 implemented an “adaptive reuse” project, remodeling campus spaces to serve multiple student uses.
The new library is designed to meet educational needs today—and in the future.
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.
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.
For more information about the new Neilson Library, contact Library Redesign Project Manager Allison Page at email@example.com.