Smith College's Neilson Library

April 13, 2022


The newly renovated Neilson Library at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, designed by Maya Lin with principal architect Shepley Bulfinch, is an intellectual hub and one of the greenest, most energy-efficient libraries in the U.S. The re-imagined building respects both old and new: the original 1909 façade and foundation co-exist with modern interior spaces filled with natural light, a variety of learning environments and, of course, books. Entro developed the wayfinding and donor recognition program for the library, taking care to ensure sign designs were simple, timeless and well integrated with their architectural surroundings.

The renovation restores the openness and connectedness of the Olmsted-designed campus by replacing the more obstructive structures that previously flanked the historic building with two elegant new wings, also called “jewel boxes.” The library now houses both traditional and contemporary resources, including Smith College’s archives, special collections, a Digital Media Hub, a multi-functional Learning Commons, the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, the Compass café, a rooftop patio, and many spaces for independent study and collaboration.

The signage program had to be highly functional and accessible, but also minimal, so as not to interfere with the architectural look and feel. Specialty finishes and a warm, natural color palette of browns and beiges complement the surrounding materials of masonry, wood, and glass.

Bookshelves line many of the walls, leaving limited surfaces for signs. We had to get creative, often by adopting a vertical orientation for room names, and by applying letters to glass surfaces where possible.

Flexible signage is important in libraries, as collections move and expand. We designed printable inserts for projecting signs on shelving to address this need. Directional signage is freestanding in the existing building to accommodate the ‘central core,’ which illuminates each story from above with an oculus. We made a point of positioning these signs close to architectural elements like columns or staircases for better integration.

Donor signage and named spaces are a key element of the signage program, giving thanks to the generous contributions of Smith College’s alumnae and friends for making this $120 million project possible.

To find out more, visit Smith College, Maya Lin Studio, and the New York Times.

Photography by Anthony Crisafulli and Nic Lehoux