Special Collections, Welcoming Views

After a three-year renovation project, the top floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center could become one of the most popular spots on campus, boasting expanded study and meeting spaces, along with breathtaking bird’s-eye views.

Tall windows on the sixth floor give patrons a magnificent look down on Locust Walk. On the eastern end of the Library, facing 34th Street, a new terrace offers a stunning vista of Center City Philadelphia.

“We wanted to take advantage of the height of this particular floor to open up the floor to the campus, east into center city, and to the west, the south, and the north,” says H. Carton Rogers, vice provost and director of Penn Libraries.

Libraries are evolving to become cultural and social centers, and the sixth floor renovations reflect that change. The reconfigured design created the new Special Collections Center, and transformed the sixth floor with expanded seating and technological upgrades.

The Special Collections Center is home to the Rare Books & Manuscript Library, the H. H. Furness Memorial Library, the Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection, and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies.

Library offices and storage areas were moved down to the fifth floor to increase meeting and event space.

“We made more spaces for people, with tables and chairs, to improve the look and feel of the library, the ambiance of the library, which in turn makes it a much more enjoyable experience to come here,” says Rogers.

In the middle of the sixth floor, the Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion is a new lecture and event space with seating for more than 100 people. When the doors are closed, people studying in the lounge area won’t be disturbed. But for larger functions, the doors can be opened to include the lounge.

“Its easy to imagine we could have created a symposium and gathering space anywhere in that building, but it had to be immediately part of the rarest parts of the collection,” says University Architect David Hollenberg. “To have that space to celebrate ‘the book’ is really fabulous symbolism.”

The David Rittenhouse Orrery, which was formerly located on the first floor, is now displayed inside the Pavilion.

Another famous historical artifact, Benjamin Franklin’s writing table, also has a new home. The Penn founder’s desk is now prominently exhibited in a special case near the Pavilion.

The historic Henry Charles Lea Library, which was not part of the renovation project, was protected during construction, and remains in the same location on the floor.

Text by Jeanne Leong
Photos by Scott Spitzer