June 5, 2013

Sneak Peek Inside Seminary’s New Library Reveals Recycled Materials, Natural Light

EYE-CATCHING STONEWORK: The Princeton Seminary Library tower as seen from Mercer Street shows a frieze of carved stone medallions that were carefully removed from the old building to take pride of place on the new.(Image Courtesy of Barbara Chaapel)

EYE-CATCHING STONEWORK: The Princeton Seminary Library tower as seen from Mercer Street shows a frieze of carved stone medallions that were carefully removed from the old building to take pride of place on the new. (Image Courtesy of Barbara Chaapel)

Although the official opening festivities for the new Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) Library will not be until October of next year, anyone traveling to and from Princeton via Mercer Street will have seen the stone and glass structure take shape behind metal fences, some of which were recently removed to reveal an arched entryway below a tall tower decorated with carved stone medallions.

The medallions were saved from the old Speer library building to take pride of place on the tower. The new building replaces the Speer to form a single library in conjunction with the Luce Library, currently undergoing renovation.

“We are almost there,” said Reference Librarian Kate Screbutenas, as she led a tour of the building with PTS staff members Barbara A. Chaapel, director of communications, and Caryl E. Chambers, director of foundation relations. “It’s like hemming a dress, there are just a few loose threads hanging down that need to be attended to.”

Some loose ends were created when the upstate New York quarry supplying the building’s quartzite stone was unable to match stone that had been carefully saved for reuse from the old building. The new building’s exterior is comprised of blocks of quartzite with a border faced with dark Corinthian granite at the lower level. The main entrance arch on Mercer Street was cut and shaped in Carrara, Italy, and the staircase leading from the street is of granite and blue stone, some of which was reused from the Speer Library.

The design of the entryway deserves comment. Rather than a straight-on path to the doorway, it is angled, resulting in slower ingress. Whether this is for aesthetic or for safety reasons, or both, the result allows one to take in the majesty of the elevated site, the imposing tower, and the triangular overhanging windows that provide spectacular views from several floors.

The building’s architects (EYP Architecture & Engineering of Boston) and builders (Barr & Barr) as well as PTS staff were keen to make sure that whatever was usable from the old building found its way into the new. Marble from the interior walls of Speer have been repurposed as tables and disk-style lighting fixtures have been refurbished. Some benches for the café are being fashioned from trees felled during the renovation. Solar panels have been installed on the roof.

The building is designed to maximize natural light throughout. Because the new building takes up less of a footprint than the one it replaces, there is increased landscaping. Pin Oak trees, a gift of the Class of 2013, have been planted along a new walkway on Mercer Street. LEED certification at the silver level has been applied for.

Inside the main entrance a public space boasts two fully-wired assembly rooms that will be available, by arrangement, to local community groups. A small café has tables and chairs and vending machines.

Beyond the security screens, the library’s service desk is staffed with librarians and IT specialists who will provide the password for free Wifi available throughout the building on request.

This area, called the Concourse, has soft seating, cherry wood and glass display cases, and shelving for periodicals and new books. “The new books section is a popular meeting spot,” said Ms. Skrebutenas. “Often it’s the first place library users make for; new titles are always a conversation starter.”

On view here currently is an exhibition of archaeological artifacts from the collection of Dr. James H. Charlesworth, the George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature. Dr. Charlesworth directs the Seminary’s Dead Sea Scrolls Project and has worked with others to make a text of the Qumran Scrolls available in English. He has excavated at Migdal, Bethsaida, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Khirbet Beza, Qumran, and elsewhere.

The Concourse is both welcoming and business-like, as befits a library for scholars. The reference librarian’s desk sits in front of glass walled offices and the area looks onto a central four-story atrium where the 3,000 square-foot floor below lends itself to receptions, lectures, and musical events. A newly installed light sculpture by Hyong Nam Ahn strikes a modern note.

Although not officially unveiled, the library is already in use by the seminary community and its neighbors at the Center of Theological Inquiry, the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), and Princeton University. It is also used by independent scholars and members of the public, although if you want to check out books you will need to pay $50 a year for a library card.

The first users to cross the threshold were an IAS visitor, a Princeton University professor, and an Episcopal priest from Plainsboro.

Public access includes work-station carrels but some parts of the library are reserved for the exclusive use of PhD students, accessed by card readers.

“Many people were consulted about the new library; we surveyed the entire PTS community of students and faculty as well as the educational media and information technology departments,” said Ms. Chaapel. “The physical space we had before was inadequate for our needs.”

The Speer Library was built in the late 1950s and the Luce Library in 1994. The two were joined by bridges and there was a compressed feeling, even more so during construction when Speer was demolished and Luce had to continue to function as a full service library. Much of the book collection was moved off site and brought back as requested. And while the process worked seamlessly with minimal disruption to scholary pursuits, it seemed to the staff and the PTS community that “Luce was bursting at the seams,” said Ms. Chaapel.

“The new library offers the opportunity for us to increase our hard copy collection even as we continue to digitize and expand our digital collection and resources,” said Ms. Skrebutenas. It has been embraced wholeheartedly by its users. Ms. Skrebutenas reports that students have become so comfortably engrossed in their new work environment that they are disinclined to leave at the end of the day.

The library website is a portal to the Internet Archive. In addition, a microform archive contains rare missionary records going back to the 18th century. A nice touch are the iPADs placed on walls at strategic points and offering immediate access to the library catalogue as well as the digital collection and news of the day’s events.

The Barr & Barr construction crew is now putting the finishing touches to the new building’s exterior and working on the interior of the Luce building that makes up the north wing of the library.

For more information, including a video tour of the new library and library hours, visit: ptsem.edu/library.