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As you exit the elevators on the newly renovated sixth floor of Van Pelt Library, Benjamin Franklin’s writing desk and several of his prized possessions — including his cufflinks and a silver spoon — are displayed in a glass case on your right.

Only a large leather-backed chair — which is outside the glass case — is a reproduction.

“The original is at Columbia University,” Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library David McKnight said, addressing a group of adults in blue blazers and students in sneakers and T-shirts.

The occasion was the Friday opening of the new Special Collections Center, which included guided tours and free refreshments for the public.

The two-year renovation — which cost $17 million in total — included a reading room for the Special Collections, conference space, a digital media lab and study areas open to students.

About 200 people RSVP-ed to the event and an estimated 500 people made their way through the center during the day.

What is perhaps most interesting about the new Special Collections Center is the way it juxtaposes the old and the new.

The Henry Charles Lea Library — a wood-paneled example of a 19th-century scholar’s library — sits across the lobby from the Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, a modern 140-seat conference room.

Further down the hall, the Vitale Special Collections Digital Media Lab features a large document camera and monitors that will allow research groups from around the world to engage with rare books remotely.

Nearby stands the David Rittenhouse Orrery, an 18th century astronomical instrument used to measure the solar system and a symbol of the liberal arts at Penn.

“The atmosphere is a lot more open than the closed, dark and shadowy fifth floor,” said College junior Sarah Schwab, a student worker in the Rare Books Library. “And the amount of space that allows researchers to do their work is definitely a huge plus.”

The University prides itself on being one of the few large research universities that allows practically anyone to handle rare materials, McKnight said.

“Students can be looking at medieval manuscripts in one room, and 19th-century ephemera in the other,” he added.

While many people were impressed and amazed by the new space, others had differing opinions.

“It’s too corporate,” a College and Wharton sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “I don’t feel like I’m in a library.”

The large central conference space does give off a “corporate” vibe, and the engraved design rimming the tall glass doors looks suspiciously like a barcode.

However, Penn students and professors can hardly be ungrateful for the sweeping views of the city and facilities that can only add to the energy of College Green.

One only wonders what Ben Franklin would have thought.

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