I always find Alberto Manguel an inspiring proponent of libraries, and he’s just written an op-ed essay on “Reinventing the Library” in today’s New York TimesHe has always had a bad case of “Bibliothecaphilia,” which happens to be the title of a very engaging exhibition at MassMoCA in North Adams, installed for the entire year.  But I can’t resist quoting the conclusion to his case for libraries as “the encompassing symbol of an entire society, a numinous place where readers could learn the art of attention” —

“If libraries are to be not only repositories of society’s memory and symbols of its identity but the heart of larger social centers, then these changes must be made consciously from an intellectually strong institution that recognizes its exemplary role, and teaches us what books can do: show us our responsibilities toward one another, help us question our values and undermine our prejudices, lend us courage and ingenuity to continue to live together, and give us illuminating words that might allow us to imagine better times.”

So if you have any doubts about the future of libraries, keep this in mind as you assess what Williams College has just created.

Wait, here’s another hot-off-the-press defense of libraries, from the New York Review of Books.  The key sentence: “The library remains a sacred place for secular folk.”  Amen to that.


Axis to access

I’m not sure of the exchange rate between words and pictures – it can’t really be a thousand to one, can it? – but in talking about the new library quadrangle at Williams, pictures seem more telling than any words I can muster.  The site is a sight, and can hardly be imagined by anyone who hasn’t set foot on it in the past two months.  I visited with a camera twice at the peak of foliage season, and put together this visual essay.

I’ve heard a number of people credited with the idea, but for at least the fifty years since Greylock Quad was built, campus planners have suggested an east-west pedestrian axis other than Route 2.  Now it’s a reality, and beyond what the designers could have hoped.  It seems to bring the mountains right onto the campus in an unexpected way.

The axis reaches its destination, both literal and metaphorical, in the access services atrium that joins old Stetson to new Sawyer, and proceeds into the atrium of the new library, implicitly continuing through four floors of glazing into the landscape beyond, toward the hairpin turn on the Mohawk Trail in the distance.

I’ll go around and into the old/new library on my next illustrated tour, but here I concentrate on a pictorial description of the privileged position the library now occupies on the Williams campus.  Click through for more photographs.

Access east 3

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Library quad today & tomorrow

Returning a book to the college library last week, I was surprised to see the whole new quadrangle — where the grass has come in, but with no further landscaping yet — being floored over, and a large stage erected in front of Stetson Hall.  The occasion was the kick-off for “Teach It Forward,” the new capital campaign for Williams, but the disruption made me all the more interested in the eventual design for the quad.  Are the trees in the rendering at the top of this blog still in the plan?

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait long for the answer.  The next day, the local public access station Willinet streamed video of an illustrated talk by Rita Coppola-Wallace, the College’s Executive Director of Design and Construction, about all the projects in the pipeline (also covered in Williams Record).  When I requested further information about the quad in particular, she kindly directed me to the Current Projects page of the Facilities website.

As well as the overall site plan for the quad, the website offers renderings and descriptions of planned features and amenities.  It’s reassuring to learn that the current big bare space represents only Phase One of the landscaping project, with Phase Two to be completed next summer.  Besides landscaping that will include a “rain garden/bio-swale” at the north edge of the quad, the plans call for new granite steps from Chapin Hall plaza down to the quad, and large marble blocks for sitting and gathering, presumably much like those just installed at the main entrance to Stetson Hall.

In the interim, students are being encouraged to walk natural pathways across the open grass, with the optimal routes being paved over next summer.  This is characteristic of the openness to student input that has marked the entire Stetson-Sawyer project, from details of program to choice of library furniture.

I’ve been making my way through eight years of entries in the Sawyer Library construction news blog, which is a fascinating progression in itself, but also informative about the transformation from original program to architect’s plan to actual building.

Another useful link I haven’t included here yet is the Sawyer Library page “About the Building,” which in turn links to Professor Michael Lewis’ entertaining illustrated lecture on the history of libraries on campus.  I would also direct you to the Williams Magazine feature, “A Library in Full,” which includes a nicely-done five-minute video on the new library (also available here) and a slide show.

This Columbus Day I’ll be taking pictures for my illustrated tour of the new library, showing off its spectacular views of peak fall foliage in the Purple Valley.  And by Thanksgiving, I will have posted, at long last, the concluding chapter to this story of Eph’s Libraries.