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News & Events for the Smith College Community
New Neilson August 21, 2019

New Neilson: Innovative Space, Innovative Services

Architectural rendering of New Neilson courtyard

The new Neilson Library will be not only an innovative and beautiful campus building, but also a space that supports new ways to learn and share knowledge.

From a Learning Commons for integrated support from learning specialists, to moveable stacks, to an entire wing dedicated to Special Collections, the new library is designed to meet educational needs today—and in the future.

“There are so many special things about this building,” says Susan Fliss, Smith’s dean of libraries. “On the lower floors, there is an abundance of resources and technology. As you move up the levels, you find more quiet spaces.

“The building is going to redesign the way we deliver library services and increase access for people with all types of study preferences,” she added. 

Architectural rendering of New Neilson ground floor lobby

Among the new features of the library building as envisioned by architectural designer Maya Lin:

  • A Digital Media Hub and two recording studios, where students can work on multimedia projects.
  • A ground-floor-to-top-floor oculus that draws natural light into the building.
  • A Skyline Reading Room on the fourth floor, with a catering kitchen and outdoor patio.
  • Larger aisles in the stacks that allow people in wheelchairs to turn around, rather than having to back out.
  • A sunken garden and outdoor amphitheater space.
  • An interior walkway connecting the new Neilson with Alumnae Gym, where additional learning spaces—including experimental studios, a User Experience Lab, a reading room and computer lab— will be open 24/7. 

“And of course, everyone is excited about the café,” on the first level, Fliss says, with a smile.

Here’s what else Fliss had to say about the new Neilson, which is scheduled to be completed by late fall semester of 2020.

How will people access resources in the new library?

“The minute you come into the library from Burton Lawn, there will be someone there to help you. The central service desk will be a single access point where people will be able to check out a book, a laptop or even a digital video camera, and ask questions of research librarians and IT Help Desk staff. We have a new blended department that brings together research and teaching librarians, Spatial Analysis Lab specialists and instructional technologists. The Conway Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is on the first floor in a very visible location. And the library will have other partners—including the Spinelli Center for Quantitative Learning and the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching and Learning—helping us deliver services in a more holistic way.”

What will learning spaces be like in the new Neilson?

“We’ve created a Learning Commons on the first level, where students can come to get help with various projects. It’s a place where you could work on assignments such as creating a map, or doing a paper using images and video clips. There are numerous collaborative study spaces and creative study nooks throughout the building and Alumnae Gym. And large reading rooms are returning to the new Neilson. Our goal is to have students see themselves as creators of knowledge, and to offer new ways for them to express and share that knowledge.”

Architectural rendering of New Neilson 1st floor

What about Special Collections in the new Neilson?

“The entire south wing of the library is dedicated to Special Collections. In the Reading Room on the third floor, people will have access to the archives and archivists from all of our collections—the Mortimer Rare Book Collection, the College Archives and the Sophia Smith Collection of women’s history—all in one space. The storage areas are designed for specific temperature and humidity, to ensure that the collections remain accessible and in good condition for years to come. There will also be see-through display cases, where you’ll be able to look in and see how the collections are stored and examples of the kinds of materials people are using. And we’re planning an exhibition room on the second floor to showcase the knowledge coming out of research with the collections.”

Architectural rendering of New Neilson Special Collections

Are there parts of the old library building that are being preserved?

“The new service hub is located in the old 1909 core of the building. The Neilson Browsing Room will look much as it did before and will serve the same function. The builders are even saving most of the paneling from the old browsing room for the new library.”

What about books?

“An awesome thing about the new Neilson is the way books are going to be displayed. We’ll have books lining the walls of the 1909 core and the north wing. You are really going to feel like you’re in a library, with books all around you. That’s something Maya Lin heard students say they wanted—and she really responded with her design.”

Do you have a favorite spot in the new Neilson?

“I have several. There’s a spot in the midst of the hubbub of the digital media lab on the ground level where you can look out into the courtyard and feel a sense of contemplation. Another is on the third floor of the north wing. I can’t wait to be there looking out those windows at the first snowfall. A third favorite is on the terrace of the fourth-floor reading room at the top of the building. It’s quite a view!”

Architectural rendering of New Neilson top floor reading room