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Neilson Library Frequently Asked Questions

Rendering of Neilson Library Main Hall ground floor

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 early 2021.

What types of sustainable practices are being used in the new building?

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.

What part of the current Neilson Library building is being preserved?

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.

How will Alumnae Gym be part of the Smith College Libraries?

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.

What types of accessible services will be offered in the new building?

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.

How much will the project cost and how will Smith pay for it?

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.

Is Smith College employing union workers to build the new Neilson 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...

When did the project start and how long will it take?

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.

Why were Maya Lin and Shepley Bulfinch chosen for this project?

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.

How do you “futureproof” a library? How do you think 50 years ahead?

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.

Will the building include quiet study spaces?

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.

Will there be faculty offices in the new library?

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.

Will the library remove books from the collection as it expands its collaborative and other spaces in the new building?

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.

What will happen with the College Archives?

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

For current information on library services, see Library Services During COVID-19.

How will students access library services while the new building is being constructed?

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:

  • Circulation and reserves
  • Instruction and research assistance
  • Access to the Special Collections
  • Reading and computing areas

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.

Where will Smith house its books and other collections during the renovation?

  • The majority of our print collections (books, journals and periodicals) are housed in the new Five College Library Annex facility in Hatfield, MA. These materials can be requested from the Annex, and are delivered to Young Library every weekday.
  • Special Collections materials (Sophia Smith Collection, College Archives and Mortimer Rare Book Collection) remain on campus and are housed in Young Library.

For more information about the new Neilson Library, contact Library Redesign Project Manager Allison Page at