Thanks to two major anonymous donations, Penn’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library will begin the first stage of renovations at the end of this month.
The RBML received gifts in February from two donors who wish to remain anonymous, one worth $4.25 million — the largest individual donation ever made to the library — and another worth $1 million, according to RBML director David McKnight.
Adding this money to previous savings, the library secured the approximately $8 million needed to fund the first of three planned renovation phases to its location on the sixth floor of Van Pelt Library.
In phase one — expected to be completed by next August — a new reading room, lecture and event pavilion and public study area will be constructed. A ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 26, with expected attendance from Penn President Amy Gutmann, the Library Board of Overseers and other Penn dignitaries, McKnight said.
In preparation for the renovations, the RBML space on the sixth floor — which includes the Furness Shakespeare Library, Lea Library and Rosenwald Gallery — has been shut down since August.
The contents of the Shakespeare Library have been moved to the fifth floor of Van Pelt, where RBML staff have also set up a temporary reading room to provide students with materials and consultation on weekdays from noon to 4:45 p.m.
In order to proceed to stages two and three, the library will need to raise roughly $7 to $8 million more in funding, McKnight said. The next phases entail a new Shakespeare Seminar Room, teaching space, media lab and stack space for the rare book collection. Aside from the stack space, which is planned for the fifth floor, all renovations are converting the former RBML space on the sixth floor.
McKnight said he expects the full renovations to take a minimum of three to four years. Once they are completed, the space will be recast as the Special Collections Center and absorb the RBML.
“My personal belief is that this [change] will be a transformative experience,” McKnight said.
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