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A Reading Room Gets a Makeover

An artist's rendering reflects the intended outcome of a project that will transform the current circulation workroom in Neilson Library into an elegant new first–floor reading room. Friends of the Smith College Libraries, with the support of Smith alumnae, are leading the fundraising effort for the project.

Since it first opened its doors in 1909, Neilson Library has undergone five major renovations and additions to accommodate expanding collections. As the collections grew from 30,000 volumes in 1909 to one million items today (books, DVDs, manuscripts, periodicals, etc.), not surprisingly, reconfigurations and space sacrifices have been made along the way.

Those involved several browsing and reading spaces. Of the original four grand reading rooms, the Collacott Room, remains a dedicated space for reading and study. But other spaces, over the years were given over by necessity to such growing functions as required in the processing, shelving and cataloguing of the library collections.

Now the Friends of the Smith College Libraries, with assistance from a local alumna and the Office of Advancement, is determined to bring back one of the original reading rooms, formerly known as the Periodicals Room. Located on the main floor near the library's entrance, in recent years the room has served as a circulation processing area.

Plans for that space are being finalized now. As envisioned, the renovated and renamed Reading Room will be a public space with a classic library feel that offers soft seating, good lighting and a quiet environment where, according to Mary Irwin, library gifts and development officer, "students can plop down and read or check their e–mails or just relax and take a break between classes."

Nearly $500,000 has been raised for the ongoing project. Included in that total is money raised by Lucy Benson 49, trustee emeritus and longtime library supporter. She recently challenged her classmates to raise $200,000, in honor of their 60th reunion this year, to help the library meet its goal for the cost of renovations.

Benson says she is confident that the Reading Room initiative is an appropriate cause for fundraising, despite the economic downturn. "This capital gift to the library will be deeply appreciated and welcomed by the students and faculty alike, and I believe it will be exciting and vitally important to the college and for generations of students and faculty."

The Reading Room is part of an overall plan to create attractive and comfortable spaces in the library. As Director of Libraries Christopher Loring notes, "With its high ceiling, large windows and beautiful lighting it will serve as a statement about how we want Neilson Library to be."

Fundraising Efforts Continue

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