Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is the largest building in the world dedicated to the containment and preservation of rare books, manuscripts, and documents. Completed in 1963 and situated on Yale University's campus, in New Haven, Connecticut, the library has room for approximately 780,000 volumes. Currently, it holds about 500,000 volumes and several million manuscripts including the original Gutenberg Bible and the mysterious Voynich manuscript, among several others.
Before the construction of the library, rare and valuable books of the Library of Yale College were placed on special shelving at the College Library, now known as Dwight Hall. Later in 1930, when the Sterling Memorial Library was being built, the university created a dedicated reading room for its rare books. As the collection grew, Sterling's reading room became too small and unsuitable for preservation of the delicate manuscripts, and the need for a larger library was felt.
The main concern was the preservation of the documents within it. The challenge was to provide ample lighting in the interior for people to study and read and to make it a pleasantly habitable space while limiting the amount of light that affects the stored volumes. For this purpose, the exterior of the building is fitted with one and one-quarter inches thick, translucent marble panes that allows light to diffuse into and illuminate the interior without causing damage to the rare materials that it houses within.
The building, made of Vermont marble and granite, bronze and glass, sits within a 200-foot by 350-foot plaza surrounded by Neo-classic and Gothic style buildings. At the center, is a glass tower of books, six stories tall, that rises through the core of the building. This tower can hold 180,000 volumes and contains valuable collection that are generally off-limits, except to librarians. Two large marble staircases ascend up to the mezzanine level that allows people to move around the glass tower. The tower is fitted with a fire extinguishing system that uses, instead of water sprinklers that would harm the rare books collections, a combination of Halon and Inergen gases that would be pumped into the stacks to stop the combustion process.
Below the library are two levels which contain mechanical equipment and a large book stack plaza on the lower level, and another smaller stack, catalog and reference room, a reading room, staff offices, and a sunken court.
Beinecke library is open to all Yale students and faculty, as well as visiting researchers.
Voynich Manuscript. Photo credit
The original Gutenburg Bible. Photo credit
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