Facelift for iconic library building

The University of Sheffield's Western Bank Library is set to emerge from a £3.4 million facelift this month (February 2010).

Opened in 1959 by the poet T.S. Eliot, and designed by the architectural partnership Gollins, Melvin & Ward, the library is a Grade II* listed building - like the adjacent Arts Tower, which was also designed by GMW and which is currently undergoing refurbishment.

With its clean, modern lines, Western Bank Library is widely regarded as one of the most significant academic buildings of the immediate post-war period, and was designed to hold over a million books. The refurbishment project has been overseen by leading conservation specialists Avanti Architects, and has aimed to update the facilities available to the library's users, while maintaining the building's distinctive architectural features – and in some cases reinstating some of the features which subsequent modifications had obscured.

One such feature is the library's marble-walled Exhibition Gallery. A generous grant of £184,000 from the Wolfson Foundation, under its programme for supporting research libraries, has combined with a legacy of £100,000 from former student Miss Margaret Lewis (who graduated in 1923)and other alumni foundation gifts from many donors and friends of the University, to restore the original exhibition space and to upgrade it with twenty-first century lighting and display technology.

The Exhibition Gallery, which is open to the public, will display items from the library's Special Collections and from the National Fairground Archive, as well as host visiting exhibitions from time to time. The first exhibition, Humbug!, celebrates the 200th anniversary of P.T Barnum and opens in March.

The refurbishment has also provided group study rooms, new study spaces, and better heating. In addition, users can enjoy new soft furnishings, and enhanced wireless network access. Customers with disabilities will also find the library easier to use. Externally, the building has been re-glazed with modern high-performance glass, and its Portland stone facing has been cleaned.

The Western Bank Library, along with the award-winning Information Commons, forms part of the outstanding library facilities available to students at the University. In last month's Times Higher Education (THE) Student Experience Survey, students rated library services at the University of Sheffield more highly than those of any other university. Overall, the University was rated 4th in the UK for the second year running.

Martin Lewis, Director of Library Services and University Librarian, said: "It's been wonderful to see the Western Bank Library emerging from this refurbishment able to provide a better environment for our students and researchers, and yet closer to the architectural vision it embodied when it opened in 1959. Along with the Information Commons, we now have library facilities appropriate to one of the world's top 100 universities."

Paul Ramsbottom, Executive Secretary of The Wolfson Foundation, said: "Sheffield's Western Bank Library is an important building housing a wonderful library collection. The Wolfson Foundation is particularly pleased to be funding the new Exhibition Gallery. This will allow both the public and the University community to appreciate the treasures of the special collections."

Miles Stevenson, Director of Development in the Alumni Department said: "This whole refurbishment has been significantly helped by philanthropy. The support of the Wolfson Foundation and the generous legacy of Margaret Lewis, a graduate from the University, as well as hundreds of donations through the alumni foundation, have helped create a fabulous new space for exhibitions at the library, which will host a range of impressive displays long into the future."

Notes for Editors: The Wolfson Foundation is a grant-making charity set up in 1955. Grants are given to support excellence and to act as a catalyst. There is a continued emphasis on funding infrastructure for science and medicine, education and the arts. The award to the University of Sheffield was part of a £10 million investment in research libraries at British universities. For more information on the Foundation, visit the link below.

To make a donation to the Alumni funds or for more information, visit the link below.
To find out more about the University's library service, visit the link below.

For further information please contact: Shemina Davis, Media Relations Officer, on 0114 2225339 or email shemina.davis@sheffield.ac.uk