Van Pelt Library celebrates 50 years

Van Pelt 50th

Penn Libraries

Van Pelt Library under construction. The building was dedicated to the memory of Charles Patterson Van Pelt, a descendant of Joseph Turner, a University Trustee from 1749 to 1779.

Van Pelt Library was constructed in 1962 when Penn’s Library outgrew its home in the historic Frank Furness building, now home to the Fisher Fine Arts Library.

This year, special celebrations are planned for Van Pelt’s 50th anniversary, including an ongoing exhibit in the library featuring photos of the building’s construction, its early interior, and the Oct. 22, 1962 dedication. The exhibit runs through Feb. 24, 2013.

During Homecoming Weekend later this month, alumni will get the opportunity to attend a commemoration on Friday, Oct. 26, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the library. The event will feature old photos, birthday cake, and reflections. Many alumni can recall spending long hours studying in Van Pelt, which has been a place to do class work, as well as a place to socialize.

“I hear all the time from alums: ‘I met my spouse who was working at the circulation desk. I walked up to check out a book and thought he or she was cute and we started chatting,’” says H. Carton Rogers III, vice provost and director of Penn Libraries.

The Van Pelt building and the operations of the library have evolved with the times. The Dietrich wing was added in 1966, and today library patrons can access books and materials online. Many, however, still visit in person to speak with a librarian.

Van Pelt

Steven Minicola

The Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center today. The Dietrich wing was added in 1966.

Rogers says that because of the foresight of the University planners who designed the library, Van Pelt has been able to successfully grow by reusing space within the building to meet changing needs. 

“There was a very strong recommendation [in a 1949 document] that a building be designed that allowed for maximum flexibility in terms of using spaces,” he says. Over the years, Van Pelt has added study alcoves, reading rooms and a café on the ground floor.

Most recently, the library has begun a multi-year project renovating the Rare Book & Manuscript Library on the sixth floor of Van Pelt, with the construction of a new home for the Shakespeare collection, three new seminar rooms, and a state-of-the-art media lab.

Originally published on October 4, 2012