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Starr Library was originally constructed as a small T-shaped, classical marble structure with a centered vestibule giving onto a broadside, barrel-vaulted reading room and echoed by a multi-level stack wing to the rear. In 1927 it was expanded laterally by twin wings housing additional reading room and collection space off either end of the reading room. In 1959-1962 it was wrapped to the south and east with additional stack areas and a new glass-walled main reading room that took in the sweep of the front campus. A further stack addition to the east (1978-1979) maintains the Vermont marble facing and copper roofs. While the later additions have greatly extended the plan of the building, each phase of its construction is fully readable, there is continuity in scale and vocabulary, and the major historic spaces with their fine Beaux-Arts detailing have remained intact.
A centennial project, Starr Library was constructed as the College's first purposely-built library and signaled the growing importance (under the impact of the German university model) of the well-stocked library as an essential collegiate educational tool. One of the first independent commissions of what would become the prominent Beaux-Arts firm of York and Sawyer (principal architects to the Federal Triangle in Washington, DC), Starr was modeled on small libraries then being designed by their parent firm of McKim, Mead & White. The selection of York and Sawyer's design over a competing Romanesque alternative marks the commitment of the college to a classical vocabulary and City Beautiful principles that would dominate campus development for the next half-century. Along with a change in material from local limestone to the greater formality of Vermont marble, the choice of this fashionable aesthetic embodies the determination of the college to convert its image from that of a regional to a mainstream national institution. The placement of Starr Library and its sister building (Warner Science, 1901, also by York & Sawyer) at right angles to Old Stone Row marked the beginning of the campus' City Beautiful development into quadrangles. The library's classicism was contemporized in an International Style vocabulary by Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott for their glass and marble reading room addition in 1959-1962.