Newly Renovated Library is Open for Business

After two years of closure due to renovations and COVID-19, Bridwell Library re-opened on August 18.

“We’re back and we’re better than ever!” said Anthony J. Elia, Director and J.S. Bridwell Foundation Endowed Librarian.

A new welcome desk greets arriving visitors in an open and inviting space. Renovations have made the building’s entryway and bathrooms more accessible. Newly refreshed spaces for quiet study await in the Red Room (home to the library’s periodicals), the Green Room (reference collection) and the Blue Room (the collection of materials related to Methodism and John Wesley)—where John Wesley’s own traveling pulpit now resides.

The lower level houses the stacks as well as a collaborative study room and private study carrels for Ph.D. students working on dissertations; the second floor is home to renovated administrative offices as well as a conference room and a Benefactors Room for public events.

One aspect of the renovation of particular interest to Perkins students: the newly dedicated space for the Theological Writing Center.

“We have a lot more to offer now in terms of enhancing and refining the services of the Bridwell Theological Writing Center, which has a fabulous and highly effective staff and student assistants,” said Elia.

Official Reopening

The official reopening, including a ribbon cutting, took place at a reception held September 1 as part of the Dante Festival. Additional activities are planned for the next few months to celebrate the milestone.

“A number of university committees, executive boards and groups who are stakeholders in Perkins, SMU Libraries, Bridwell and the wider university community are coming in October and November to celebrate the opening,” said Elia.

One of eight libraries on the SMU campus, Bridwell was built in 1951 and underwent renovations twice before, in 1972 and in 1989. The latest $6.1 million renovation began in May 2019. Improving accessibility was a key impetus.

“The 1989 renovations were completed just months before Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” said Jane Elder, Reference Librarian.  “Now we’re fully ADA-compliant.”

The first phase of work began in the reading rooms, which were completed and reopened in December 2019 for a few months.

“The initial idea had been to section off areas and work on them in parts,” said Elia. “We thought we’d be closed for just a few months, so that the library could stay open and reroute patron traffic through various sections of the library while some parts were demolished and rebuilt.”

COVID-19 changed those plans, however, extending the initial renovation closure in December 2019 and leading to the full shut-down of the entire building to the public from March 2020 until the August 18 reopening.

Despite the closure, library staff found ways to continue to serve patrons. The Rev. Dr. Greg Smith (D.Min. ’21) even managed to complete his dissertation during the closure.

“The incredible team of librarians at Bridwell took it upon themselves to find resources from our library and then mail them to my home in Brenham,” said Smith, who is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Texas. “They additionally contacted other theological librarians across the country who were willing to provide the needed resources either by mail or online. I can safely say that the actions of the staff of Bridwell made all the difference in my completing this project within the timeframe required for the Doctor of Ministry program at Perkins.”

Library staff also took advantage of the closure period to tackle internal projects in the library’s back-end.

“We still worked full force, efficiently and effectively even while we were working remotely part of the time and then returned to the building without in-person patrons,” said Elia. “Some of us actually felt like we got more work done during this time, but we also ended up having more work spread among us because of staff vacancies that occurred just before and during the pandemic.”

Leading Library

The renovation means that members of the Perkins community will enjoy access to one of the nation’s finest research collections in theology and religious studies. Bridwell houses nearly 400,000 volumes and some 50,000 rare books, manuscripts, art and cultural artifacts ranging from antiquity to the present.  During the recent Dante Festival, Bridwell both commissioned and acquired completely new and unique works for its collections.

“Bridwell’s collections and archives are growing significantly, especially with the World Methodist Museum and the United Methodist Publishing House collections,” Elia said. After announcing plans to close last spring, the World Methodist Museum selected Bridwell Library to receive its extensive collection of items related to John Wesley and early Methodism.

Elder added that, while Bridwell’s focus is theological, many books and items in the collection relate to other disciplines.

“We’re not just the Bible library,” she said. “We have materials that would be of interest to students of history, art history, English, foreign languages, printing and bookbinding.” The acquisition of antique printing presses, typographic plates, and materials related to the history of publishing will be a major development in the next few years at Bridwell.

Bridwell is also known for its exceptional and first-rate incunabula collection. (“Incunabula” refers to materials printed in the first 50 years after the invention of the printing press—literally meaning “in the cradle” of printing.)

Visitors to the renovated library will also notice artwork from the Bridwell collection displayed throughout the library, much of which had been in storage for decades prior to the renovation.  On the top floor, near the stairs, is a large 1898 oil painting entitled Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness, by Emanuel Krescenc Liška (1852-1903). The painting was restored in 2019. Also nearby is the unattributed Madonna and Child done in the style of works by Florentine artist Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530.) The oil on wood painting depicts the Madonna and Child with John the Baptist.

Plans are underway to install museum quality descriptive labels with QR codes next to each piece of artwork, so that visitors may scan for more information about the piece’s history, artist and provenance.

Elia notes that library staff continue to develop services, programs, tools and more for better and easier use of the library and access to information.

“Our staff is making every effort to get information and books to those who need them,” he said. “We are expanding our e-book collections for easier and quicker access; and we are engaging with students to make our services as useful and easy as possible. We look forward to having you visit and enjoy the newly renovated spaces and utilize all of its services.”