The established hush of the Stern library landscape will meet a lively new addition this semester. Renovations to the periodical room of the Hedi Steinberg Reference Library are underway, and involve an innovative layout complete with group study rooms, increased seating and modernized decor.
“The whole idea was to give the students as much seating as possible, and a pleasant environment that was encouraging of their learning needs,” said Head Librarian Edith Lubetski. These needs were gauged through a survey she jointly conducted with the Student Life Committee (SLC) in November 2015.
“We had a fairly good response rate, and what we learned from that survey was that there really was a desire for a variety in study and collaboration spaces,” said Paul Glassman, who has served as Director of University Libraries since September 2015. Having taught architectural history and design at Yeshiva College since 1994, Glassman was approached by Dean Karen Bacon to spearhead the Steinberg renovations. An effective library reboot, as Bacon expressed to him, was a “top priority” for Yeshiva University.
Achieving both a variegated and expanded study environment “required more private and individual study carrels, a certain amount of more informal spaces, and then certainly spaces that encourage peer-to-peer learning, which would most likely be group study rooms,” explained Glassman. He and Lubetski worked closely with design company W.B. Mason to incorporate all three styles into the limited space.
The novel floor plan accommodates a staggering sixty seats—more than double the twenty-five that the room previously held. In order to clear space for the fresh layout, neglected periodicals have been removed and made available on the online YULIS library catalog. The reduced periodical collection will only occupy the perimeter of the room.
The main area will contain thirty-four individual study seats, with a combination of study carrels and armchairs with swiveling tabletops. Design highlights include vibrantly colored furniture, power outlets on carrels, and chairs with castors for easy mobility. Three group study rooms will line the back wall, each equipped with a large glass whiteboard. The preexisting back room will seat twelve and contain a table that can be deconstructed into four smaller tables. The two newly constructed rooms will each seat six and be entirely enclosed in glass, offering “privacy but also a visual connection to the rest of the space,” shared Glassman.
The renovations are being funded by a six-figure donation from the Mitrani Family Foundation. Prior to procuring the funds, the university held a competitive month-long bidding process to secure a design company that was most cost-effective. Various companies came to examine the space and discuss the project plans. Once W.B. Mason won the bid, an agreement was brokered between the company and the university, and collaboration on the design swiftly began.
At this stage of the renovation, periodicals and shelves have been removed, painting has begun and carpeting has been ordered. Though the space will shortly be ready for use, furniture ordered in mid-August will take another five weeks to arrive. The target completion date is thus right after the Sukkot break, just in time for midterms.
In past exam seasons, insufficient seating has forced students to resort to classrooms or to haul uptown to the Gottesman and Pollack libraries.
“Often there just isn’t a free spot to sit in. It makes going elsewhere, like the uptown library, feel sort of necessary sometimes during finals,” expressed Naomi Schachter, SCW ‘18.
It is relatively unheard of for male students to reciprocally trek to the downtown library. A student on Wilf campus, Eli Schwartz, SB ‘19, neatly summed up a key deterrent: “There’s no space. That’s why women come to ours.”
The lack of variation in study spaces has driven others away. Though Miriam Pearl Klahr, SCW ‘17, considered “the quiet respectful environment of the Stern library to be perfect for independent study,” she noted that “it is extremely detrimental that there is no library space for group study, especially since this often results in students using the Beit Midrash instead.”
SLC Libraries Liaison Zahava Schwartz, SB ‘17, believes that the revamp has the potential to alleviate these issues. “I hope it becomes a place that people want to go to because they enjoy the experience of being there, rather than going there because they don’t have anywhere else to study and don’t want to go uptown. Most importantly, I hope that it raises school morale, that people will look more positively on Stern and all the amazing opportunities it offers, with the library being just one of them.”
On whether further developments lie ahead, Glassman felt that “there is so much change in this library that I would think that this would perhaps—if it’s successful, and I trust that it will be—a stimulus for further improvements to the civic environment of the Steinberg Library.” He and Lubetski hinted that they aim to improve the technology in the space, but must await buy-in from the university. As student needs continue to evolve, committed leadership is building the promise of the library’s parallel evolution.