Sterling Library’s L&B Room will reopen to students April 15

  • Panoramic view of room with wood arches and pillars and white patterned ceiling opening up to larger room with green chairs, bookshelves and round chandeliers. Two couple converse in the front foyer.
February 20, 2024

The Linonia and Brothers (L&B) Reading Room, an iconic Sterling Memorial Library space that has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic, will reopen to students on April 15. Contractors are now putting the finishing touches on a renovation designed to return the room to its original splendor while unobtrusively adding all the conveniences of 21st-century heating, cooling, and electrical systems. 

“Sterling Memorial Library is a building with an incredibly rich architectural fabric. As we plan renovations in the building, we carefully study its spaces and details in order to respond in ways that adapt the building to new uses and technologies while respecting its architectural integrity,” explained James Fullton, architect and planner in the Office of Facilities. “At L&B, every detail mattered, and we sought to keep our interventions as quiet and as close to the original architecture as possible.” 

“A grand living room”

The original intent of the L&B Room was to hold a browsable book collection, in the spirit of a large private library or “a grand living room,” Fullton said. Generations of Yalies remember it as a favorite place to study, read, relax, or nap on green leather couches. But when the library reopened to students during the pandemic, the L&B Room remained closed because its 1930s mechanical systems could not reliably maintain COVID-era ventilation standards. 

“The L&B Room is one of the most beautiful spaces in Sterling, and yet many of today’s students have never even seen it,” said Barbara Rockenbach, Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian. “We can’t wait to see their reactions.” 

The Tudor-style reading room features book-lined alcoves, an ornate plaster ceiling, and Gothic windows overlooking Selin Courtyard. The room was named in honor of the Linonia Society and the Brothers in Unity, two debating societies founded in the 18th century that built substantial collections containing modern literature in an era when Yale did not offer English as a field of study. After Sterling Library opened in 1931, those collections were donated to the new library. Access to the space was for men only until 1963 when University Librarian James T. Babb announced it would open “to the ladies” to recognize “the growing status of women in the Graduate School at Yale.”

Scottish accents

The project design, led by Apicella + Bunton Architects, began in January 2022. Construction by Dimeo Construction Company began in January 2023. The renovated space features a mix of restored original and historically inspired new furniture. The architects pored over archival photos to get the details right, cleaning and restoring original materials and fittings where possible. Original lighting fixtures were meticulously cleaned and rewired with energy-efficient LED bulbs. Sustainably sourced oak replaced damaged original wood flooring that had been hidden under carpet tile for decades.  

Without the layers of grime, the extraordinary detail in wood, stone, plaster, metal, and glass that characterizes Sterling Library has become more visible. The L&B Room’s decorative motifs include dragons, thistles, and five-petaled roses—the last two thought to reference the Scottish heritage of John W. Sterling, the building’s original benefactor.

Letting in the Lux

Those familiar with the room in recent years may notice the absence of partitions that, in an earlier renovation, had been installed across a set of archways to create a small room at the entrance. Removing these barriers has restored a dramatic flow of space and natural light from the windows at the front of the building, as architect James Gamble Rogers (B.A. 1889) intended. A collection of books about Yale and New Haven history will line the shelves in the entry foyer.

On April 15, from 10 a.m. to noon, Rockenbach, Fullton, and others involved with the project will be on hand to answer questions about the room and welcome students to Yale Library’s brightest new space. “Students bring the library to life,” Rockenbach said. “We want them to feel at home here.” 

—Patricia M. Carey

View Image gallery: Sterling Library’s L&B Room, past and future

View an online exhibit about Sterling Memorial Library architecture.

Read a 2021 Yale News story announcing the L&B Room renovation.