Library At the west end of Franklin Street and the park begins Middlebury's campus proper, marked by the impressive mass of the college's new main library (Gwathmey Siegel Associates, 2000 – 04). Prior to 1968 Storrs Avenue cut straight across to Main Street, with faculty housing to the village side and a green grove leading up to Old Stone Row on the other. However, in that year the College decided to place the sciences at its front door. The construction of the Science Center to the designs of The Architects Collaborative (Cambridge, Massachusetts) closed Storrs Avenue with what was programmed to be the first of a line of three interconnected, five-plus-story buildings of Brutalist concrete and limestone construction, cutting off the front campus from the village. A brilliant success at encouraging and invigorating the sciences at Middlebury, the building was also an urbanistic disaster. When, in the 1990s, the time came for its enlargement, the college determined to correct rather than compound its earlier mistake, move the sciences to the northwest corner of the campus (McCardell Bicentennial Hall), deconstruct and recycle the Science Center, and build a new library in its place.
The architects of the new library faced a difficult set of challenges—providing an interior that could accommodate the rapidly changing needs of library and information technology services, inserting a large building into a delicate historical front-campus location, and creating an exterior that is of its times and yet of its place. They addressed the first with a great hall that gives onto three floors of loft-like stack and technology space wrapped by a mezzanined perimeter of offices and study carrels, the contemporary interiors warmed by the use of certified woods harvested from local forests as part of the College's program of environmentally conscious building. They addressed the second by setting the building into the hillside and making it a compact object floating below Old Stone Row rather than a fourth side to a quadrangle. The semi-circular form of the uphill side reinforces the arc-like flow of space between the Row and the village while it also invokes the imagery of rotunda-libraries initiated by Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia. It is tied to the structure of the campus above by placement as the anchoring terminus of the important Storrs (Chapel) Walk. To adjust the facades to the scale and materials of the historic campus, the architects have manipulated their characteristic modernist geometries to create individually readable units (picked out in marble against a more textured stone body) that repeat the colors and proportions of the nearby Painter and Warner Halls.
The library is not only home to a collection of approximately one million items, but also to high-tech classrooms, multi-media facilities, group studies and viewing rooms, a resource and writing center, a café, the college archives, and a full range of information services. Its reading rooms celebrate vistas to the Green Mountains on the east and the historic campus core to the west. Its Abernethy collection of American literature contains over 19,000 volumes (mostly first editions) and manuscripts of some 1000 authors, including Thoreau, Emerson, Henry Adams, and Robert Frost. Middlebury's collection of "Frostiana" ranges from books and manuscripts to photos, documents, and realia—including the poet's armchair. Other special collections comprise materials on Vermont and local history, rare books and manuscripts, and the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection and Vermont Traditional Music Archives with their extensive holdings relating particularly to the musical heritage of New England.
In the new building's vestibule a history wall traces the evolution of the college's libraries. Its atrium is dominated by a huge mural commissioned and funded in 2004 – 5 from Matt Mullican with the assistance of the Edwin Austin Abbey Fund Committee of the American Academy of Design. On the south flank of the building can be found "The Garden of the Seasons" by Vermont-based environmental artist Michael Singer, commissioned as part of the college's initiative for Art in Public Places. This reading garden incorporates sculptural elements in granite and concrete, indigenous plantings of all seasons, and a water/ice wall to create a changing year-round celebration of the natural world.