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In August 2010 the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) embarked on a three-phase renovation plan, the result of several years of planning and intense fund raising efforts. A $4.25 M gift, which the Libraries received from a member of our Board of Overseers who wishes to remain anonymous, made it possible for the first phase of the project to go forward.

The renovation plan

The overall renovation plan creates a new, dramatic special collections center on the 6th floor to serve the demands and interests of the scholarly community. The center will address the current ergonomic problems of the floor and will become a multifunctional site where we will be better equipped to host classes, lectures, and conferences - both intimate and large - with full technology support, while maintaining other departmental functions.

Phase one of the plan focuses on the core area of the 6th floor. A brand new, state-of-the-art rare book and manuscript reading room is being completed on the north side of the floor, taking full advantage of natural light from the north. In addition to providing a bright, secure, and quiet space for research, this room will contain a number of small group consultation rooms suitable for faculty and students working together on projects involving departmental collections. In the center of the floor will be the new Class of 1978 Pavilion, a prime lecture and event space. As conceived, this space can be used for multiple purposes and, most important, can be closed to limit the disruptions inherent in our current spaces. Finally, the Ellen and Herb Moelis Reading Terrace turns the highly underused balcony area along the south edge of the building into a beautiful, glassed-in public study area and reading terrace.

Phase two is beginning in summer 2012. We are building a new Shakespeare Seminar Room and Library along the southeastern side of the floor, looking out over the campus and toward the Center City skyline. In addition to that space, we will create a large teaching/seminar space that can be used by one large group or that can be reconfigured to accommodate three smaller groups. Adjacent to those seminar spaces will be a new, high-end media lab where material and electronic texts can be explored together using the latest technologies.

Phases one and two will be completed and the 6th floor will reopen in early 2013.

The final phase will be built on the 5th floor and will begin only after funding is secured. It will include a conservation laboratory, a new state-of-the-art stack space for rare books, and an exhibit preparation area.

Impact on RBML Services

All of these transformations will entail major construction on the 6th floor - and major challenges for the staff in RBML and for our patrons. Details of the resulting service changes are as follows (and we ask that you bear with us as we work to arrange and finalize these and other details):

  • Closing: All spaces on the 6th floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library have been closed to the public. This includes: the Lea Library, the Furness Shakespeare Library, the Rosenwald Gallery, the main reading room, and the Smith seminar room.
  • Lea Library: From May 29 to September 1, 2012, the Lea Library will undergo renovations. During this time period, portions of the Lea printed book collection will be unavailable. Researchers interested in working with Lea Library materials are encouraged to contact the department in advance with any questions.

    The Lea Library has been carefully protected during construction. The renovations involve code upgrades to the electrical wiring and the inclusion of archival grade environmental controls.

  • Furness Shakespeare Library: The public portion of this collection has been relocated to the third floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. We will continue to make the collections accessible to faculty and students and continue our ongoing commitment to adding titles to the collection in support of its mission of documenting Renaissance culture.
  • Consultation of materials: A reading room for consultation of rare book and manuscript collections is open on the far east end of the 5th floor of Van Pelt- Dietrich Library Center (room 502). Hours are noon-4:45pm, Monday-Friday.
  • Regular service: RBML staff will strive to provide regular, efficient service to faculty, students, and the research community throughout this period . There may be delays in making some materials available owing to difficulties of accessing some collections, but we will let you know of any such delays or difficulties.
  • Class sessions: We will endeavor to honor requests from faculty who wish to schedule class sessions for consultation of rare collections, using classroom spaces on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors. But please be aware that such spaces will be limited, and we simply may not be able to grant all requests. Faculty should continue to contact John Pollack ( to arrange such meetings.
  • Student groups: Faculty who wish to arrange for students to consult collection materials for classes in the reading room, should get in touch with the curatorial staff. We will do our best to make such projects both possible and productive.
  • Digitization: Our digitization initiatives through the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI) will also continue as scheduled.
  • Our program of exhibitions and events continues. A full listing can be found at

Updates and changes to services will be posted to the RBML homepage. For more information about donations to the renovation project, please see The Campaign for Penn's Libraries: The Special Collections Center

Please be assured that we remain always available for questions and comments about the renovation project. You can reach RBML staff by phone (215-898-7088), by email (, or in person in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. Our vision of the new Special Collections Center is informed by the needs of our patrons, the needs of our many collections, and the opportunity to build, truly, a rare book and manuscript library for the 21st century.