Van Pelt celebrates 50th birthday

Since its inception, the building has undergone multiple renovations to promote technological integration

· October 30, 2012, 11:50 pm

Leslie Krivo-Kaufman | DP

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Van Pelt Library, now half a century old, has kept up with technological advances.

On Friday, the library, which was constructed on Oct. 22, 1962, hosted a commemoration for its 50th birthday. The event looked at past and present innovations in the building, including the ongoing revamping of the Special Collections Center.

Van Pelt’s Director of Planning and Organizational Analysis Joe Zucca said the new Center, which will reopen in early 2013, will feature more technological integration. The Center will provide digitized rare books, manuscripts and other primary sources.

It will also feature new seminar spaces, a pavilion and gallery space that will have advanced lighting and up-to-date computing capabilities. “Because of the modularity of the building, it’s easy for us to keep pace with these technology changes,” he said.

According to Zucca, the library was constructed in a manner that allowed for easy reconstruction and adaptation.

“In 1962, Van Pelt was a building that reflected its time in architecture. It’s what’s known as a Brutalist building, so there’s a heavy emphasis on concrete and large open spaces,” he said. “While it’s not the most attractive space externally, it’s such a flexible space inside that we can really keep the building like a new building through each generation, each phase of technology change.”

Since its inception, the library has undergone multiple renovations. Van Pelt was constructed in 1962 after the main and special library collections outgrew the Frank Furness Building, later known as the Fisher Fine Arts Library. In 1966, the Dietrich wing was added to the building.

H. Carton Rogers III, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries, said merging the buildings set in motion all of the other structural changes that took place in Van Pelt.

The Lippincott Library, which is housed in the Dietrich wing, was the site of the library’s first major renovation. After Lippincott’s consolidation on the second and third floors in 1967, other operations within the building were relocated, which created more open study spaces for students.

“The whole idea was to take advantage of the most beautiful parts of the architecture of this building, which are the extraordinary windows looking out over Walnut Street and the campus,” Rogers said. “It went a long way to softening the building.”

Most of the library’s renovations took place in the late 1990s, when changes such as the Goldstein Undergraduate Study Center were implemented.

“All of those group study spaces had technology enhancements in 1998, and we’ve continued those enhancements,” Zucca said. “We upgraded all the electrics in the late 1990s to make it possible to access the range of electronic devices that were necessary in a big library [at the time].”

The next large-scale renovation was Weigle Information Commons. A partnership between the library and the School of Arts and Sciences, Weigle was added to the building in 2006.

“The idea was a high-tech space that was always staffed,” Marjorie Hassen, Penn Libraries’ director of public services, said. “The thing about technology is if you put a lot of technology out and you don’t include expertise, it’s hard for students to know what to do with it,” she added.

The Vitale Digital Media Lab was added to Weigle in April 2006. While many were skeptical about the need for the lab, students often visited Vitale for resources that weren’t accessible from their personal computers.

“In 2006, a lot of the software people wanted to use wasn’t on their personal computer and I’d even say most Penn students were using desktops,” Hassen said. “Now people have the software on their machines, but they don’t know how to use it so they come to us for the expertise.”

The digitized Special Collections Center will work in conjunction with Vitale. Hassen described the renovated Center as a humanities research lab focused on projects involving rare materials. The Center will host the technologies necessary to manipulate these materials.

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