Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Located in the heart of today’s Central Campus, the Sterling Memorial Library is one of Yale’s most prominent buildings, as well as being the largest of all the Yale libraries.  Completed in 1930, it was designed by architect James Gambell Rogers (Yale Class of 1889) and later named for its benefactor, John William Sterling (Yale Class of 1864).  It currently houses approximately 4 million volumes on 16 floors of book stacks.  It was built in the Collegiate Gothic style, resembling a European Gothic cathedral, with its 60-foot ceiling, cloisters, clerestory windows, side chapels, and a circulation desk altar.  The stained glass windows throughout the building, 3,300 in all, were designed by artist G. Owen Bonawit.  SML houses the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, added in 1998, as well as numerous reading rooms and departments.  From early June 2013 until the fall of 2014, the nave area of SML will be undergoing a major renovation.

Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Accessibility

An accessible entrance faces Cross Campus.  Please ring doorbell for assistance. An elevator is located straight back from the main entrance. Men’s and women’s accessible bathrooms are on the ground floor in the Music Library and downstairs in the Wright Reading Room.

Access

Special note for tours: During construction, non-Yale tours will not be allowed to enter the Sterling Memorial Library.

After 6:00 p.m., a Yale ID card or a library-issued pass is required to enter the building.  Before 6:00 p.m., the library is open to the public.  See the library hours section above for the full hours of operation.

A library-issued stacks pass, borrowing pass, or a current Yale ID is required to enter the stacks in SML.

Directions

From the New Haven Green or Phelps Gate on Old Campus, take College Street north to Elm Street. Make a left onto Elm Street. Go past Calhoun College and Berkeley College (on your right). At High Street, turn right and follow the cement pathway.  The Women’s Table sculpture on your right and Sterling Memorial Library will be to the left.

Sterling Memorial Library – History

Sterling Memorial Library (SML) was built with funds from the bequest of John W. Sterling, a New York attorney who graduated from Yale in 1864. Mr. Sterling, who at his death in 1918 left most of his estate to Yale University, wished to have at least a portion of the money used to create one magnificent and useful building which would act as a memorial of his affection for his alma mater. By 1931, Sterling’s total gift to Yale amounted to over $29 million.

Designed by James Gamble Rogers, the library was built to house 3.5 million volumes in a book stack tower intended to be the dominating feature of the facade, something of an innovation for the time. The interior of the tower is a self-supporting, unified structure of steel fused together by an electric welding process which was new in 1928; this book tower was at the time the largest such welding project ever undertaken. Although technically seven stories high, the book tower actually contains sixteen levels of stacks. In the days when the new library building was largely surrounded by much smaller buildings, the sheer size of the tower stunned its viewers. The impression of the size was heightened still more by the semi-Gothic style of the tower, and its rather plain facade and elaborately crenellated battlements.

Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Attention to artistic detail pervades all of Sterling Memorial Library. As a general rule, the ornamentation of each library area was designed to be in harmony with the intended purpose of the room being decorated. A second floor room originally designated as the English Study has window decorations portraying King Lear, Hamlet, and Lady Macbeth; the offices of the Babylonian Collection were given windows bearing the human-headed winged bulls of Ninevah and the Babylonian lion. In larger areas, design schemes were even more elaborate. The entrance hall relates, in stone and stained glass, the history of the Yale Library. Carved stone panels below the windows represent such events as the meeting of the Branford ministers in 1701 to form a “college in the colonies”, the Saybrook plea for the retention of the library, and the British invasion of New Haven in 1779. The windows above the panels have decorated panes that interweave the story of Yale and New Haven; the windows show everything from a portrait of Elihu Yale to the ox carts that brought the books from Saybrook.

Throughout SML, in almost every available wood, stone, and plaster surface, is carved a design that will remind the viewer of the dignity and significance of learning in general and of libraries in particular. A visitor passing through the archway separating the nave from the exhibition corridor will walk beneath four quotations on the value of written knowledge. Above the circulation desk, field bosses on the ceiling represent various writing implements, from quill pen to typewriter keyboard; and a painting of Alma Mater on the backwall is surrounded by allegorical figures representing her academic schools. In the exhibition corridor, stone corbels picture scenes that include a fifteenth century scholar, a reader with a book and jug, and a student receiving his diploma. Countless windows throughout the building are glass representations of great literary works, such as Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. In the original Rare Book Room (now Manuscripts and Archives), each decorative pane is a tale from Aesop’s Fables. The original Medical Study on the fifth floor has one window showing a witch shooting pain into a man’s foot, a picture copied from an illustration in a fifteenth century medical text. Even a custodial closet, just outside the renovated Starr Main Reference Room, is decorated with a mop, pail, broom, and brush.

Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

The sculptor responsible for much of the stone carving within SML was Rene P. Chambellan. He drew his inspiration not only from well-known literary works but from their illustrations; from symbols of historic, philosophic, religious, or mythological significance; from nature; and from the heraldry of the University itself.

The library’s windows, with their tracery and leaded glass, were designed by G. Owen Bonawit. Like Chambellan, Bonawit received his ideas from the scholarly world around him. The decorative panes in his windows were inspired by book sources from around the world, many of which are now housed in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Even the most unexpected portions of SML have been adorned in the manner of a Gothic cathedral, but in this case to the greater glory of scholarship and the dignity of libraries. The iron doors of the public elevators were wrought by Samuel Yellin and represent Medicine, Law, Shipping, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Chemistry, Husbandry, and Machine Work. Yellin was also responsible for the ornamental iron gates that stand between the Wall Street entrance and the Exhibition Corridor. Many of the plaster ceilings are either painted or bordered with decorative friezes, and such decorative schemes do not cease in the areas of the building open to the public: the staff lounge has windows decorated with such characters as Jack Spratt and his wife and Jack Horner, and a staff restroom has windows made colorful by heraldic shields.

A detailed description of the building is contained in the Yale Library Gazette from April, 1931, when the library originally opened.

In brief, the ornamentation within Sterling Memorial Library is beautiful, detailed, all-pervading, and symbolic of the history and universality of the libraries of the world. This art work contributes much to the unification of form and function in a building that affirms the value of knowledge and scholarship at Yale, and the enduring nature of the written word.

Architecture Details

The library is one of the most elaborate buildings on the Yale campus. The main entrance is adorned with symbols and writings in various ancient languages, the work of architectural sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan who executed the designs produced by Lee Lawrie. The rest of the sculptures throughout the library; gargoyles and interior panels and ornamental designs were designed and executed by Rene Chambellan. The Nave is decorated with marble reliefs depicting Yale’s founding and the history of New Haven and Connecticut. A giant fresco of Alma Mater surrounded by figures representing academic schools greets scholars over the circulation desk. Bosses on the ceiling of Nave represent writing implements. Even the doors of the elevators are handwrought iron, depicting Medicine, Law, Shipping, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Chemistry, Husbandry, and Machine Work. The most famous detail about the construction of the library, however, is its windows. In total, there are some 3,300 hand-decorated windows in the library. They depict everything from fiction to history and even small insects on otherwise unadorned panes created to look real. In 2000, one former librarian published a book about the windows.

Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

In 1997 the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library was constructed in one of Sterling’s unused courtyards. It houses one of the largest collections of recordings and scores in the United States.

Sterling Memorial Library Nave Restoration

In the summer of 2011, Yale University received a generous donation to restore and the entrance nave of Sterling Memorial Library. Opened in 1930, Sterling Library is architect James Gamble Rogers’s masterpiece of collegiate gothic style. With more than 3,000 decorated windows, seven stories of reading rooms and offices, and fifteen floors of book stacks, Rogers intended Sterling Library to be a cathedral to learning and the intellectual heart of a great university. The entrance nave is the grandest of the many awe-inspiring spaces in Sterling Library. The architectural elements in the nave are reminiscent of gothic cathedral architecture, which find their modern equivalents in the massive stone columns, soaring leaded-glass windows, and a circulation desk at the crossing of the nave that generations of visitors to the library have mistaken for an altar.

In October of 2011, the University selected Helpern Architects of New York to lead the restoration of the nave, working alongside experts in historical preservation and planners from the Library, the Office of University Planning and Facilities, the Office of the Provost, and selected faculty members. Planning assumptions for restoring the nave include the following:

  • Retain the architectural splendor and the sense of awe what one experiences in the nave.
  • Restore all glass, wood, and stone in the nave to their former glory.
  • Make the nave an inviting location for members of the Yale community.
  • Enhance library services and empower users in the nave.
  • Develop the ability to keep the first floor of Sterling Library open after library services close.

The descriptions and drawings in this guide explain how many of these assumptions will be put in place during and following the restoration.

Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticuthttps://i0.wp.com/plexusworld.com/wp-content/uploads/Yale-library-counter.jpg?fit=750%2C1000https://i0.wp.com/plexusworld.com/wp-content/uploads/Yale-library-counter.jpg?resize=150%2C150 angelsujimeena Old ArticleTravel & TourismWorld History,,,,,,,,,,,,
Located in the heart of today’s Central Campus, the Sterling Memorial Library is one of Yale’s most prominent buildings, as well as being the largest of all the Yale libraries.  Completed in 1930, it was designed by architect James Gambell Rogers (Yale Class of 1889) and later named for...
Located in the heart of today’s Central Campus, the Sterling Memorial Library is one of Yale’s most prominent buildings, as well as being the largest of all the Yale libraries.  Completed in 1930, it was designed by architect James Gambell Rogers (Yale Class of 1889) and later named for its benefactor, John William Sterling (Yale Class of 1864).  It currently houses approximately 4 million volumes on 16 floors of book stacks.  It was built in the Collegiate Gothic style, resembling a European Gothic cathedral, with its 60-foot ceiling, cloisters, clerestory windows, side chapels, and a circulation desk altar.  The stained glass windows throughout the building, 3,300 in all, were designed by artist G. Owen Bonawit.  SML houses the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, added in 1998, as well as numerous reading rooms and departments.  From early June 2013 until the fall of 2014, the nave area of SML will be undergoing a major renovation. <h3>Accessibility</h3> An accessible entrance faces Cross Campus.  Please ring doorbell for assistance. An elevator is located straight back from the main entrance. Men’s and women’s accessible bathrooms are on the ground floor in the Music Library and downstairs in the Wright Reading Room. <h3>Access</h3> <div> Special note for tours: During construction, <strong>non-Yale tours will not be allowed </strong>to enter the Sterling Memorial Library. After 6:00 p.m., a Yale ID card or a library-issued pass is required to enter the building.  Before 6:00 p.m., the library is open to the public.  See the library hours section above for the full hours of operation. A library-issued stacks pass, borrowing pass, or a current Yale ID is required to enter the stacks in SML. <h3>Directions</h3> From the New Haven Green or Phelps Gate on Old Campus, take College Street north to Elm Street. Make a left onto Elm Street. Go past Calhoun College and Berkeley College (on your right). At High Street, turn right and follow the cement pathway.  The Women’s Table sculpture on your right and Sterling Memorial Library will be to the left. <h2>Sterling Memorial Library - History</h2> Sterling Memorial Library (SML) was built with funds from the bequest of John W. Sterling, a New York attorney who graduated from Yale in 1864. Mr. Sterling, who at his death in 1918 left most of his estate to Yale University, wished to have at least a portion of the money used to create one magnificent and useful building which would act as a memorial of his affection for his alma mater. By 1931, Sterling’s total gift to Yale amounted to over $29 million. Designed by James Gamble Rogers, the library was built to house 3.5 million volumes in a book stack tower intended to be the dominating feature of the facade, something of an innovation for the time. The interior of the tower is a self-supporting, unified structure of steel fused together by an electric welding process which was new in 1928; this book tower was at the time the largest such welding project ever undertaken. Although technically seven stories high, the book tower actually contains sixteen levels of stacks. In the days when the new library building was largely surrounded by much smaller buildings, the sheer size of the tower stunned its viewers. The impression of the size was heightened still more by the semi-Gothic style of the tower, and its rather plain facade and elaborately crenellated battlements. Attention to artistic detail pervades all of Sterling Memorial Library. As a general rule, the ornamentation of each library area was designed to be in harmony with the intended purpose of the room being decorated. A second floor room originally designated as the English Study has window decorations portraying King Lear, Hamlet, and Lady Macbeth; the offices of the Babylonian Collection were given windows bearing the human-headed winged bulls of Ninevah and the Babylonian lion. In larger areas, design schemes were even more elaborate. The entrance hall relates, in stone and stained glass, the history of the Yale Library. Carved stone panels below the windows represent such events as the meeting of the Branford ministers in 1701 to form a “college in the colonies”, the Saybrook plea for the retention of the library, and the British invasion of New Haven in 1779. The windows above the panels have decorated panes that interweave the story of Yale and New Haven; the windows show everything from a portrait of Elihu Yale to the ox carts that brought the books from Saybrook. Throughout SML, in almost every available wood, stone, and plaster surface, is carved a design that will remind the viewer of the dignity and significance of learning in general and of libraries in particular. A visitor passing through the archway separating the nave from the exhibition corridor will walk beneath four quotations on the value of written knowledge. Above the circulation desk, field bosses on the ceiling represent various writing implements, from quill pen to typewriter keyboard; and a painting of Alma Mater on the backwall is surrounded by allegorical figures representing her academic schools. In the exhibition corridor, stone corbels picture scenes that include a fifteenth century scholar, a reader with a book and jug, and a student receiving his diploma. Countless windows throughout the building are glass representations of great literary works, such as Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. In the original Rare Book Room (now Manuscripts and Archives), each decorative pane is a tale from Aesop’s Fables. The original Medical Study on the fifth floor has one window showing a witch shooting pain into a man’s foot, a picture copied from an illustration in a fifteenth century medical text. Even a custodial closet, just outside the renovated Starr Main Reference Room, is decorated with a mop, pail, broom, and brush. The sculptor responsible for much of the stone carving within SML was Rene P. Chambellan. He drew his inspiration not only from well-known literary works but from their illustrations; from symbols of historic, philosophic, religious, or mythological significance; from nature; and from the heraldry of the University itself. The library’s windows, with their tracery and leaded glass, were designed by G. Owen Bonawit. Like Chambellan, Bonawit received his ideas from the scholarly world around him. The decorative panes in his windows were inspired by book sources from around the world, many of which are now housed in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Even the most unexpected portions of SML have been adorned in the manner of a Gothic cathedral, but in this case to the greater glory of scholarship and the dignity of libraries. The iron doors of the public elevators were wrought by Samuel Yellin and represent Medicine, Law, Shipping, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Chemistry, Husbandry, and Machine Work. Yellin was also responsible for the ornamental iron gates that stand between the Wall Street entrance and the Exhibition Corridor. Many of the plaster ceilings are either painted or bordered with decorative friezes, and such decorative schemes do not cease in the areas of the building open to the public: the staff lounge has windows decorated with such characters as Jack Spratt and his wife and Jack Horner, and a staff restroom has windows made colorful by heraldic shields. A detailed description of the building is contained in the Yale Library Gazette from April, 1931, when the library originally opened. In brief, the ornamentation within Sterling Memorial Library is beautiful, detailed, all-pervading, and symbolic of the history and universality of the libraries of the world. This art work contributes much to the unification of form and function in a building that affirms the value of knowledge and scholarship at Yale, and the enduring nature of the written word. <h3>Architecture Details</h3> The library is one of the most elaborate buildings on the Yale campus. The main entrance is adorned with symbols and writings in various ancient languages, the work of architectural sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan who executed the designs produced by Lee Lawrie. The rest of the sculptures throughout the library; gargoyles and interior panels and ornamental designs were designed and executed by Rene Chambellan. The Nave is decorated with marble reliefs depicting Yale's founding and the history of New Haven and Connecticut. A giant fresco of Alma Mater surrounded by figures representing academic schools greets scholars over the circulation desk. Bosses on the ceiling of Nave represent writing implements. Even the doors of the elevators are handwrought iron, depicting Medicine, Law, Shipping, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Chemistry, Husbandry, and Machine Work. The most famous detail about the construction of the library, however, is its windows. In total, there are some 3,300 hand-decorated windows in the library. They depict everything from fiction to history and even small insects on otherwise unadorned panes created to look real. In 2000, one former librarian published a book about the windows. In 1997 the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library was constructed in one of Sterling's unused courtyards. It houses one of the largest collections of recordings and scores in the United States. <h2>Sterling Memorial Library Nave Restoration</h2> In the summer of 2011, Yale University received a generous donation to restore and the entrance nave of Sterling Memorial Library. Opened in 1930, Sterling Library is architect James Gamble Rogers’s masterpiece of collegiate gothic style. With more than 3,000 decorated windows, seven stories of reading rooms and offices, and fifteen floors of book stacks, Rogers intended Sterling Library to be a cathedral to learning and the intellectual heart of a great university. The entrance nave is the grandest of the many awe-inspiring spaces in Sterling Library. The architectural elements in the nave are reminiscent of gothic cathedral architecture, which find their modern equivalents in the massive stone columns, soaring leaded-glass windows, and a circulation desk at the crossing of the nave that generations of visitors to the library have mistaken for an altar. In October of 2011, the University selected Helpern Architects of New York to lead the restoration of the nave, working alongside experts in historical preservation and planners from the Library, the Office of University Planning and Facilities, the Office of the Provost, and selected faculty members. Planning assumptions for restoring the nave include the following: <ul> <li>Retain the architectural splendor and the sense of awe what one experiences in the nave.</li> <li>Restore all glass, wood, and stone in the nave to their former glory.</li> <li>Make the nave an inviting location for members of the Yale community.</li> <li>Enhance library services and empower users in the nave.</li> <li>Develop the ability to keep the first floor of Sterling Library open after library services close.</li> </ul> The descriptions and drawings in this guide explain how many of these assumptions will be put in place during and following the restoration. </div>

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