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Renovations to the sixth floor of Van Pelt Library includes ceiling windows that overlook Center City. On the interior, the renovations are designed to house Penn’s rare books collection.

Credit: Courtesy of Scott Spitzer

As you enter the sixth floor of Van Pelt Library, you are immediately confronted with the floor’s centerpiece, a pavilion room with eucalyptus-paneled walls abutting floor-to-ceiling glass panes.

This new room is part of the renovated space at the top of the library. The Special Collections Center will reopen to the public April 18, after two years of construction. The space has been transformed from standard book stacks and desks to a modern open floor serving different functions.

The project was originally slated to open by the end of 2012, according to previous reporting by the Daily Pennsylvanian.

“The cost of the project significantly increased which meant we needed to raise more money so from early concept to construction start, yes it was a number of years,” Director of Development for Penn Libraries Tina Cowansaid in an email, “Once we had a final plan, we decided to break the project into three phases to allow us to start while raising all the funds. We now have secured all the funds.”

The new area also includes a study space designed for students.

“I’ve talked to alumni who said, ‘We never went to the sixth floor of Van Pelt. We didn’t know we were welcome there,’ and we want to change that,” Vice Provost and Director of Libraries H. Carton Rogers said.

Rogers said the purpose of the renovation is for the rare books, which are housed in Penn’s Special Collections Center. “More were coming our way, and we were totally out of space,” he said.

Leaving the center of the space on the sixth floor, the south wall has been transformed with floor to ceiling windows, new leather couches and glass tables as a study space. The southwestern corner contains the new Goldstein Family Gallery.

“Typical of Penn, I think we really hide what we have. The Penn Libraries have such extraordinary collections,” Rogers said, explaining the impetus for the new gallery as a way to show these objects.

The Goldstein Family Gallery will display some of Penn’s most valuable artifacts, according to Rogers. One of the exhibits to be housed there will be the recently acquired Schoenberg collection, a group of Renaissance and medieval manuscripts, valued at $20 million.

The north half of the sixth floor is devoted to scholarly pursuits. The Henry Charles Lea Library stands, unchanged, near the new Franklin Alcove — which is an exhibit showing one of Benjamin Franklin’s desks— with an excerpt from his autobiography on the wall behind it.

“[The quote] discusses temperance, which is fitting for a college campus, we thought,” Rogers joked.

Down a hallway is the Schoenberg Institute of Manuscript Studies, an area where scholars can sit down with items from the Schoenberg collection that aren’t on display for study.

“The main academic function of a reading room is to provide a space for people to use rare books and manuscripts,” Rogers said. The new reading room provides a set of desks and new group study rooms for picking apart manuscripts and rare books.

The sixth floor renovation is phase one and two of a three-phase process. The next step actually occurs on the fifth floor where construction of a second glass-walled room is underway. These rooms are where the rarest of Penn’s texts are stored.

“We’re trying to create a different look and feel in different parts of Van Pelt,” Rogers said of the project.

Most important of all, the study space has tons of outlets, Cowan said. “Librarians told us about students always coming up to them and asking where the outlets are, so we made sure to add a lot and put them in easy spots.”

Scholars will be allowed into the reading room by March 4, but the official opening will be hosted on April 18 to 19, when a donor celebration will be held, followed by an open house for the entire Penn community.

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