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Renovations of Gottesman Library Around the Corner

Yeshiva University has big plans in store for the Gottesman Library on Wilf Campus. Back in early 2012, the University embarked on a plan to renovate the aging library. The project is being spearheaded by Jeffrey Rosengarten, Yeshiva University’s Vice President for Administrative Services, along with Dean of Libraries, Pearl Berger. Soon after the decision was made to renovate the library, Aaron Cohen Associates Ltd., a library consulting firm, was hired to study the library and evaluate the changes that would be necessary to better serve our students and faculty. Both Rosengarten and Berger were confident in hiring the firm. According to Rosengarten,“they know what’s going on in academic libraries around the world. They come with an area of expertise and ask the questions necessary to see what will be most effective.” The firm worked with the University to survey its community, through a number of “focus groups,” of both students and faculty, who helped to determine what the library’s users wanted. After this process, it became glaringly clear that the library needed  a true renaissance and modernization. In June of 2012, Aaron Cohen Associates Ltd. presented the university with the results of the study and planning commenced. Dean Berger stresses that, bottom line, “whatever we decided has been based on the response we received from members of both the faculty and student body.”

For a long time, libraries were the silent homes of books. Like many of its contemporaries, the Gottesman Library, which was built in 1969, was fashioned in the same way, and now houses over 600,000 physical volumes. Today, in contrast to how they were historically constructed, libraries are not built merely to house collections. No longer do libraries consist solely of endless rows of books. “Now,” says Berger, “libraries consist of both quiet as well as active and lively spaces.” A library is meant to facilitate learning both independently and interactively. The entire purpose of a library has evolved and been revolutionized.

This is the goal for the renovations of the Gottesman Library. Yeshiva University intends to change the function and purpose of the library. What once was an institution established primarily for books and study, will be transformed into an environment meant to stimulate learning.  Essentially, the plan is to modernize the outdated library by transforming both the main function and overall ambiance. The University wishes to create a more open, welcoming, and stimulating environment. Many new spaces to study independently and quietly, as well as more public areas meant for group studying and discussions will be created. Dean Berger adds that, in short, “the goal is to address a large variety of needs.”

The library currently consists of both spaces meant for independent and quiet studying, as well as larger areas meant for group sessions and interactivity. Unfortunately, the extensive number of bookcases force some of the spaces meant for quiet studying to be placed near the group areas. The noise from the more open areas carries over to some of the designated silent parts of the library, compromising the purpose of some of the quieter areas. Furthermore, the size of the impressive book collection limits the number of study spaces. Even the fourth floor, which has been designated as the quiet floor where students can study in silence, does not have nearly enough individual study spaces. There are only forty-eight individual spaces on the silent floor for the roughly 1400 undergraduate men at Yeshiva University. Additionally, many women come uptown from the Beren Campus on most nights to use the library. Many parts of the library have little, if any, natural light because of the placement of windows. The otherwise dimly lit library creates a rather grim and foreboding environment, which is unpleasant to learn in.

Through the coming renovations, the hope is to completely change the atmosphere and environment. The library will be transformed into a more comfortable, pleasant, welcoming facility. With new windows providing natural light during the day, students will feel connected to the world outside the library, and not entrapped within a giant warehouse of books. The library will be remodeled to have a modern look and feel to it. Brighter colors on the wall will replace the antiquated brick interior of the present day library. With new, comfortable furniture, the refurbished library promises to cultivate a pleasant learning environment. Overall, these changes are meant to foster a more welcoming and pleasant environment.

Many of the bookshelves currently housing some of the 600,000 physical volumes held in the library, will be removed in order to allocate more space for new areas to study. Individual study spaces are to be heavily increased, yet still spread out, eliminating the tight, cramped feeling of the current model of the library. These areas, which are meant to be silent spaces conducive to studying will be in a quiet setting, away from the interactive areas, allowing students to focus without feeling claustrophobic or confined. At the same time, the extra space will also host larger group areas for collaborative studying, and an overall more spacious layout. These areas will be designed to stimulate creativity and interactivity between students. New “group study rooms” with a table and chairs are being added, for students working on group projects and other endeavors. Mr. Rosengarten hopes these changes will make the library “a place that is conducive to a learning environment.” The library should be somewhere the students will not only enjoy studying alone, but also with other students and faculty as part of the overall learning experience. A place where creativity is stimulated. Renovations will incorporate several technological advances, including much needed significant upgrades to the wireless network.

Mr. Rosengarten told The Commentator that the planning process is nearly complete. A competitive bid process has recently been completed and a general contractor will be selected shortly. The contractor will work with ROART, the New York based architecture firm, and university staff to schedule the renovations to be least inconvenient for the students. Mr. Rosengarten assured me that while any project of this scale will cause some occasional inconvenience, “the project will be coordinated in a way that least inconveniences the students.” Dean Berger added that this project is a renovation, meaning that the building’s footprints will not be extended, despite hints from President Richard Joel at last year's Town Hall Meeting that there were plans to open the library’s sixth floor.

The renovations will include the Library’s ground floor/lobby, as well as levels 2, 2A, 3A, and 4. From the time they begin, the renovations are estimated to be completed in under two years. The project is being funded entirely by donor funds, without which the renovations would be impossible.