Sterling Memorial Library

Rear of Sterling LibrarySterling Memorial Library was it. The monumental granite, the stained glass, the statuary, the arched entrance more foreboding than welcoming, it represented the accumulated knowledge of the ages, an intimidating mountain, its upper reaches unscalable. I couldn’t look it in the face.

In Hungry Charlie’s across York Street I tilted the blank wall of my face toward the articulated rear of knowledge, considering procrastination over a beer at base camp in the shadow of that frozen peak. Later, I would find a seat in the main hall or in a reading room, or sometimes in the stacks, but now I’ll just finish this beer and return to my walnut cubby at Morse and consider things further.

Bill Peck

The Atlas Room

I worked in the atlas room of the library’s Map Collection, cataloging and shelving atlases. It was a room not much bigger than an average living room, with high bookshelves on all sides, filled with mostly oversized books, a couple of work tables, and no windows as far as I recall.

The work load was light, so I had time to peruse the collection. The one that stuck with me for its quirky specialization was “A Linguistic Atlas of Texas German.” It noted a regional division among German speakers in Texas between those who used English “veranda” and those who used “porch.”

The curator of the collection was Alexander Vietor, a distinguished authority in the field. My contact with him was infrequent, as his office was elsewhere, but on my departure, he kindly presented to me a limited-edition reproduction of a rare 1675 map of New England from Yale’s collection. I still have it on a wall in our house.

David Monk

The stacks of Sterling

A carrel in the Sterling stacksSophomore year I took Al Kernan’s 2 semester Shakespeare course, and Sunday afternoons I would go up into the stacks, find an open desk, and settle into a new play, and not come up for air until I’d finished, or nearly finished it. There was no view (as far as I remember), and a musty dusty smell; periodically I’d hear someone moving around a few rows away, but I’d hardly ever actually encounter anyone. It was the right place for a long period of concentration, and the more I heard from Professor Kernan, the better I think understood and the more I enjoyed what I was reading.

Vin Scully said people shape environments, and environments shape people. Several times every year since I audited his course senior spring I’ll see something he spoke of, or similar to what he was showing, and hear his idiosyncratic locution.

Mark Fulford

Libraries and carrels

carrel in sterling with an open book on the deskThe setting that comes to mind is one I haven’t thought about in ages: the libraries, specifically, the carrels tucked away in the hidden corners of the stacks in Sterling. This surprises me. After fizzling in physics and running aground on the rock (calculus) freshman year, I was a pretty indifferent student. I didn’t have a particular academic interest, and wound up majoring in history as kind of a default setting. I found it hard to study in my room; too many distractions, even when I had a single. But in the dark and quiet of the Sterling stacks I found enough focus to get through papers and readings well enough to manage an average mix of Passes and High Passes. And there was something mystical about taking a break and pulling random volumes off random shelves. I found books that had been in the collection a hundred years or more and had never been checked out, probably hadn’t been opened since someone pasted in a still-virgin “Due Date” slip. The Pierson library, a brightly lit Georgian style room in the gold-capped tower over the archway, was an excellent spot for night-before cramming.

It’s funny those are the places I think of now, when I spent so much more time at the Daily News building and in the Pierson dining hall. I’ve often felt that I didn’t take full advantage of the education Yale offered, but looking back, I can draw a line from those stacks to law school, where I excelled in book work, on to a career in which my greatest strength was research and writing, and into a retirement in which an easy chair and a Kindle play such major roles.

David Nix

Sterling Library

L & B Reading Room in Sterling LibraryI remember going into the main library, that first room on the right with the little rooms lining the wall facing the inner courtyard. Each had a pair of plush chairs upholstered in green leather facing the courtyard. A covered radiator, useful during the snow in winter, was between the chair and the window. I used to like to go there in the evening to study. The trouble was, I often had to read a book in French. It was rather boring, having to stop and look up frequent words in a story that wasn’t terribly interesting to begin with. Unfortunately, I almost always got too relaxed and sleepy to accomplish much. However, I felt very collegiate.

Robert Schechter


A row of old books in the Sterling stacksI do not remember what academic task first took me to the stacks at Sterling Library.

I discovered a world of old books. Some had been idle for 20-80 years. Some were uninteresting but others had stories of obscure worlds. I found books that had not been checked out for decades.

The carrels offered study cubicles with no distraction. I saw so few other students that carrel studying (stack crawling) had an aura of magical exclusivity. So: why are alumni denied visiting privileges?

M. Bruce Parker

Calhoun roof

Harkness Tower with the word "Sample" printed over itFor a different view that not many have seen, climb to the top of the back side of Calhoun (or whatever it is called these days) that looks out on Beineke, the library and Berkeley College. Eddie Wright and I shared what was then an L shaped double on the 6th floor, and we had access to the tower on the roof. From there you can actually see the miniature castle on the top of the library.

Terry Jackson

L & B Room

L&B alcoveThe reading alcoves in the L&B room at Sterling Library were cozy little chapels where I went to worship the written word. They had wonderful views of the courtyard plus sleep-inducing green leather chairs. Truth be told, I may have napped more than I read at the L&B. Whenever I’m back in New Haven, I always make a pilgrimage to the L&B.

Scott Simpson