The university's main library displays changing attitudes toward modernism. Whittier's Bailey unit sits on axis with the Fleming Museum at the south end of the university's interior quadrangle, though its entrance ignores the museum to address Main Street instead. An exercise in mid-twentieth-century formalism, its ground floor is partially below grade and is separated by a continuous band of glazing from a three-story upper brick volume that reads with monumental unity beneath a floating roof slab. A single panel is centered in each face—grilles screen multiple floors of recessed curtain wall on three sides and marble marks the entrance on the south facade.
The building and its relationship with the campus were transformed by Robert Burley's Howe addition that extended the volume westward, utilizing the broken forms and massive exposed concrete of Brutalism in the manner of Boston City Hall. The newer unit skews the mass forty-five degrees and shifts its entrance to recognize its principal approaches from the direction of University Row. Retaining the Bailey brickwork, it erodes its volumetric severity to the southwest with exposed structure, progressively undercut floors, and glazing that reduce its scale and enhance the ease of entrance into the great block.