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Rubenstein makes $13.6M gift to fund new special collections library

The final stage of renovations to Perkins Library, including a redesign of the main entrance as shown below, is scheduled to begin in 2013.
The final stage of renovations to Perkins Library, including a redesign of the main entrance as shown below, is scheduled to begin in 2013.

The University’s special collections library will be getting some special attention—not to mention a redesigned home and a new name—in the latest wave of Perkins Library renovations.

David Rubenstein, Trinity ’70 and co-founder and managing director of The Carlyle Group, is making the renovations possible with a $13.6 million gift. The Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library will be renamed the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, pending Board of Trustees approval, the University announced August 17. Rubenstein is also co-vice chair of the Board. The gift is the largest ever made to Duke Libraries.

“For years we’ve been thinking that the Duke special collections deserved its own named library,” said Deborah Jakubs, University librarian and vice provost for library affairs. “Duke’s collections are pretty remarkable, so having the Rubenstein Library will put us in a different league.”

Renovations to the special collections library will tentatively begin in early 2013, said Thomas Kearns, principal architect at Shepley Bulfinch, the firm working on the project. The original 1928 and 1948 buildings will be transformed into an improved study, learning and user space. The new design will also provide a healthier environment for the long-term preservation of the University’s special collections and archives, Kearns added.

“For undergraduates and graduates doing research, access is going to be really improved,” he said. “This is exciting because it’s nothing like any other library has today. It’s going to be really fantastic.”

There will be a new stack storage system for all special manuscripts along with fire protection and indoor air control systems. There will also be a number of new and updated facilities within the Rubenstein Library, including a special collections research room, a rare book classroom, seminar room, assembly space and a photography gallery. The redesign will also revamp the main entrance to Perkins Library.

“It’s kind of dark now and not really accessible. The landscape will be cleaned up and well-lit,” Kearns said. “We’re also going to restore the Biddle [rare books] room and restore the old Gothic reading room. There are a lot of exciting pieces to the puzzle.”

Kearns and administrators said the Rubenstein Library is slated to open in early 2015, though the timeline is variable.

The estimated total cost of the Rubenstein Library is about $55 million, Jakubs said, adding that the libraries will continue fundraising for the project from other areas.

Rubenstein’s gift is the second stroke of luck for Duke Libraries, as Duke Athletics announced a ticket sale proceeds partnership with the libraries in May. Funds raised from the partnership, which begins this upcoming season, will be used for discretionary library spending.

The Rubenstein Library is the final part of the Perkins project, a multi-year library renovation project that began 10 years ago, responsible for additions such as the von der Heyden Pavilion and Bostock Library. This gift fulfills the libraries' $30 million fundraising goal for this last phase of the Perkins project. The Perkins project's total cost to date is approximately $90 million, Jakubs added.

A fitting gift

Rubenstein’s connection to Duke Libraries and the special collections reaches far deeper than his latest gift.

As a freshman in 1966, he helped retrieve books for students under the old, closed-stack system.

“To help pay my way through Duke, I got a job to work at the library for $1.50 an hour,” Rubenstein said. “The building in which I did it was the only library building at the time, and it was the existing special collections building. So I guess you could say I took an interest then.”

In May, Rubenstein met with Jakubs and other library administrators after the BOT executive committee meeting. After hearing of the libraries’ desire to modernize the special collections and the approximate cost, Rubenstein said he decided “pretty much on the spot” to contribute.

The $13.6 million gift is not the first time Rubenstein has made significant contributions to the University, though this is his largest. In 2009, Rubenstein donated $5.75 million to help the Sanford School of Public Policy in its transition from an institute to a school. In 2002, he contributed $5 million toward the completion of Sanford’s Rubenstein Hall.

This gift, however, is a particular blend of Rubenstein’s interests, given his affinity for historical documents. In December 2007, he purchased the last privately owned copy of the Magna Carta, which he then loaned to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. He added that he would like to help expand the collection in the future, perhaps aiding the library in acquiring materials.

Rubenstein said he hopes the redesigned library will help promote the collections and an interest in rare materials.

“This will be a place where students can meet, with places to study, and I think that will be helpful,” he said. “ If you have a better facility, it might get more students interested.”

The student experience

Jakubs said the library administration is making sure that the redesign reflects the Duke community’s needs and improves research interactions with materials.

The new design provides teaching and research spaces as well as additional—and varied—study space. The Rubenstein Library will increase access to materials and make research easier, a huge benefit given that 40 percent of special collections users are undergraduates, Jakubs said.

Visitation to the Duke Libraries has increased by more than five times in the past six years. In 2004, the library gate count was about a half a million people per year. In 2010, the gate count increased to 2.8 million, Kearns said.

“While digitization is making more of our materials accessible around the world, Duke still places a high value on engaging with primary sources and learning how to do original research,” President Richard Brodhead said in a statement to The Chronicle Friday. “Rather than working with representations, students can work with a scrapbook assembled by Walt Whitman, first editions of novels by Charles Dickens in their serialized form or an original photograph by Matthew Brady. Thanks to this renovation, the libraries will be able to expand their teaching and outreach, bringing more students face-to-face with documents and artifacts that illuminate new things about the past.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this article had some figures attributed incorrectly. The total cost of the Perkins project to date is $90 million, however, the estimated cost for the Rubenstein Library is an additional $55 million. Rubenstein's gift fulfills the libraries' fundraising goal of $30 million. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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