The Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center

interior photo of library

A library for the 21st century.

By Judith Rodin, CW’66

OUR CONTINUING EXCELLENCE as a university will depend on the high quality of the resources that support our expansive academic mission. One of the most important of those resources stands at the very heart of our campus: the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. Critical to Penn’s intellectual vitality, Van Pelt-Dietrich is undergoing dramatic renovations that are sure to make it one of the truly outstanding libraries for the 21st century. Allow me to give you a tour.
   A multi-year, multi-phase project, the renovations of Van Pelt-Dietrich are creating a haven for research and study on campus. With a bright new ambiance; advanced, user-friendly technology; and comfortable space for scholarly work, the library is a vibrant and inviting destination for students and faculty. On the first floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich — where phase IV of our project is being carried out — you will find the library’s main study and research areas. They have been transformed to create a “gateway to knowledge,” integrating and centralizing five key services — information, reference, circulation, microforms, and periodicals.

   The genius of the library’s redesign is its imaginative use of existing space. Walls literally came down, revealing the beauty of College Green and the activity of Walnut Street through the library’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Students and faculty no longer conduct research in the shadow of walls and darkened desks. Rather, sunlit study lounges ring the perimeter of the library. It now basks in a circle of natural light.
   As we renovate Van Pelt-Dietrich, we are focusing a great deal of our efforts on technological enhancements. Central to these improvements are many generous alumni, and we are grateful to them. Their investments in excellence have led to the creation of the Goldstein Electronic Classroom, the Glossberg and Vitale Multi-media Seminar Rooms, the Class of ’37 Computer Lab, the Class of ’64 Look-Up Center, the Class of ’55 Multi-media Conference Room, the Class of ’56 Computer Center, the Center for Electronic Text and Imaging, the Class of ’63 Microtext Center, and the Snyder and Moelis Electronic Research Areas.
   Penn will lead its peers in the integration of technology and library resources. And we are already hearing very positive feedback from those whom we seek to better serve. Earlier in the renovations, one student wrote: “This is the most comfortable computing environment I have ever had the pleasure to use. Totally ergonomic. I love the swing-out keyboards which keep you the proper distance from the monitors and the wrist-rests really ease typing strain. Keep up the good work.”
   I can assure that thought-ful student, his classmates, our faculty, and you — our alumni — that we will.
   We all know that the world has changed greatly since 1962, when the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center opened. While we use advanced technology to serve a changing order of academic information needs, we will continue to invest in the types of holdings traditionally associated with libraries. Scholars — especially in the humanities and liberal arts — will continue to need books and other print materials for teaching and research, and the library will build the strongest possible print collections to serve their academic needs.
   A world-class university deserves a world-class library, and with the renovations of Van Pelt-Dietrich, that is exactly what Penn has. It is a new library rising from the foundation of the old — a welcoming place, a bastion of study, research, and scholarly reflection. The renewal of Van Pelt-Dietrich is cause for celebration, an accomplishment that hints at a bright and productive year to come. Clearly a library for the 21st century, Van Pelt-Dietrich is — and will remain — at the very center of our academic mission.

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