A Library At Last

After three years of construction, the newly dedicated Chalmers Library anchors a campus emerging from pandemic disruption.

By Molly Vogel

With spaces for quiet study on every floor, easy access to librarians and student support services, natural light from nearly any vantage point and, of course, books, the new Chalmers Library was formally dedicated on Oct. 29.

Students and faculty have had access to the building and its services since the fall semester began. For seniors, this semester is the first time in their Kenyon experience that they have had all library services under one roof. Modular buildings — or “mods” as they became known — on Peirce lawn have served as stand-ins since Olin and Chalmers Memorial libraries were taken offline in the summer of 2018.

President Sean Decatur noted the collective journey to the library opening in his remarks at a Friday evening dedication event, which also served as a celebration for the successful attainment of $300 million in the original Our Path Forward campaign. “This moment feels like a long one in the making, not just because it actually was — but also because of the path we took to get here,” Decatur said. “From literal barriers, those put up during construction which were decorated but nevertheless felt like unwelcome walls on our open campus, to metaphorical barriers in the ongoing pandemic that has us all masked today — it took real, combined, community effort for us all to reach this moment.”

Thea Soukup ’22 praised the sense of community and connection fostered in Chalmers, even in its study spaces. “Even though we might be doing work individually, a certain solidarity is fostered, as I look around the room and see many different students, with different backgrounds and beliefs, coming to the same space to take part in intellectual curiosity and growth.”

Chalmers Library is part of the new West Quad — along with the Robert T.S. Lowell IV House for Admissions and Robert A. Oden Jr. Hall academic building, both still under construction — bringing together academics, arts and college leadership. 

The expansion of the campus core to the west preserves Kenyon’s thoughtful mix of nature and buildings along Middle Path, in keeping with the rhythm of the historic buildings and the view corridors to the hills beyond. Unlike Olin Library before it, the new Chalmers is set back from Middle Path in-line with neighbors Rosse Hall and the Gund Gallery. “This, in essence, restores some of campus to us, returning green space for our enjoyment and making for a more open experience down Middle Path,” Decatur said.It is also Kenyon’s first large-scale building to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification, a high standard of green building design.

Kenyon has come a long way since the College’s first library was housed on Philander Chase’s farm in Worthington, noted Brackett Denniston III ’69, chair of the Board of Trustees. Denniston extended thanks, on behalf of his fellow trustees, to architect Graham Gund ’63 H’81, whose Gund Partnership designed the library. Gund and his wife, Ann, were among those alumni and donors who returned to campus for an evening of celebration that also included a toast to the Gund Gallery’s 10th anniversary and to Daisy Desrosiers, director and chief curator, who began her role in June. 

Rose Brintlinger Fealy ’84, member of the Board of Trustees and Campaign Leadership Committee tri-chair, shared her memories of the previous Chalmers Library, specifically the honors study carrels which were “prized and private,” even though they were essentially windowless rooms with no natural light.

Saying how excited she was for today’s students to find their own favorite study nooks, Fealy also expressed gratitude to the nearly 18,000 alumni, parents and friends who propelled the campaign past its original goal in January, five months ahead of schedule. “We set our own example and follow it, inspiring our fellow alumni to join us in lifting up and investing in this place that has meant so much to each of us throughout the years,” Fealy said. “I am confident that we will build on this tremendous momentum as we continue on with Our Path Forward to the Bicentennial, to conclude in Kenyon’s 200th year, 2024.”

The new library is named for Gordon Keith Chalmers, Kenyon’s 13th president. The building also recognizes his wife, Roberta Teale Swartz Chalmers, a poet, teacher and co-founder of the Kenyon Review. It features more than a dozen spaces — from offices to reading rooms — named in recognition or memory of Kenyon alumni and donors.  

In addition to housing Kenyon’s library materials, including the special collections and archives, the building centralizes student resources including Academic Advising, Student Accessibility and Support Services, Career Development, the Writing Center and the Office of the Registrar.

Amy Badertscher, associate vice president for libraries and strategic innovation, noted that this is the first time Kenyon’s collection has been housed in proper order, with room to grow. She, along with Ron Griggs, vice president for library and information services, thanked the many members of LBIS and the construction staff, some of whom attended design and library conferences along with the architects to shape input into the library design, which also included student feedback.

Before guests were invited to tour the space, Provost Jeff Bowman reflected on the evolution of the library at Kenyon. More than 60 years ago, Professor of English Denham Sutcliffe lamented how books were spread out all over campus including in a quonset hut by Rosse Hall (“the Annex”), in the attic of the bookstore, in the old shooting gallery and in department offices. “Today, we can happily say that the dire situation Professor Sutcliffe described is thoroughly, marvelously rectified by the new Chalmers Library,” Bowman said. “Tonight we celebrate a building that brings space, clarity, and inspiration.”