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Welcome to the New Neilson Library

Presidential Letters

Published March 18, 2021

Dear students, staff, faculty and alums,

Three years ago, we broke ground for the largest capital project in Smith’s history—the renovation of Neilson Library. 

Today, I write to invite you, virtually, into your new library—a reenvisioning of a building that has been at the heart not just of our campus but also of the educational experiences of generations of students, staff and faculty. As a reminder, Neilson will open later this month, but only to those in our COVID-19 screening program. I hope this video tour will give you a sense of what awaits you.  

I know you share in my excitement at the completion of this once-in-a-lifetime project profiled in today’s New York Times. I am so grateful to Maya Lin for her inspiring vision of our library. In the New York Times story, Maya reminds us of how personal this project is for her, given her mother’s dramatic journey to Smith from China in 1949. “I owe my existence to Smith,” Maya says. “I owe them everything.”

This state-of-the-art library houses the new and the old: our archives and special collections, a global destination for scholars; studios where students can record podcasts, videos and other digital media to enhance their scholarship; the Jill Ker Conway Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where students can receive the mentorship they need to bring their entrepreneurial ideas to life; a new multifunctional Learning Commons, where students can connect directly with librarians, writing coaches, technologists and other experts; and, of course, our library collections. When you are in Neilson, as Maya said, “You’re still in a house of books.”

The first time I walked into the fully renovated Neilson, I was awestruck by Maya Lin’s original sculpture of the Cappawonganick (Mill River) to my left and the sun-filled oculus on my right. As I toured the library, I wondered where I would choose to sit and study—in the mezzanine overlooking the grand foyer; at a booth in the café; in a window seat in the Joan Fletcher Lane ’49 and Melvin Lane Reading Room; at a table in the skyline room overlooking the Holyoke Range; outside in the new amphitheater leading down to Burton lawn; or in a carrel by the sunken garden, named for Maya Lin’s mother, Julia Ming Hui Chang Lin ’51.

I know I will find my favorite place in the new Neilson, just as you will find yours. This library—a place of learning, connection, discovery and beauty—invites us to explore the world in all its wonder.


Kathleen McCartney
President, Smith College