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Shelfish Behavior

Demand for the University libraries speaks volumes about Utahns' thirst for knowledge.

by Margaret Olsen

As the University of Utah has played a vital role in the development of Utah, so has the library played a central role in the life of the University. Barely three years after pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley, regents of the newly chartered University of Deseret designated the first University official, appointing William I. Appleby to serve as librarian. And books were the University's first recorded donation. So the earliest vision for the institution recognized books and a library as a cornerstone of a center for learning and culture.

The Marriott Library is the largest and most visible University of Utah library. However, there are two other very important campus libraries. The S.J. Quinney Law Library is the largest public law library in the state of Utah. Located at the southwest corner of the campus, adjacent to the College of Law, it houses 300,000 volumes of legal materials. Its primary focus is to support the educational mission of the College of Law and to support teaching and research. However, it also serves as a resource for the entire University community, the bench and bar, and the general public.

The history of the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library is intertwined with that of the Marriott Library. From 1935 to 1968 the library for the School of Medicine was a part of the George Thomas Library. When the Thomas Library closed and the new Marriott Library opened in 1968, the medical library moved to "upper campus," where for several years it was housed in the sub-basement of the Medical School Building.

Wayne Peay, director of the Eccles Library, has less- than-fond memories of those quarters. They were cramped and situated directly under the cafeteria. The library staff knew what was being served for lunch well before they made the trip upstairs. In 1971 the medical library was relocated to handsome new quarters in the Health Sciences complex on the northeast corner of the campus. By that time the collection had expanded to support not only the teaching of medicine but also the allied health sciences, including nursing, pharmacy, and health. Today the Eccles Library serves health professionals throughout the entire Intermountain West. -M.O.

The Union Building (now David P. Gardner Hall) was completed. Dr. Walter P. Cottam, chair, Botany, began planting a native plant collection, thus beginning the prized Arboretum collection.

A 61-acre tract of land was ceded from Fort Douglas to the University.

The George Thomas Library Building (now the Museum of Natural History) was completed. The University of Utah nursery school was established in the Department of Home Economics.

The Graduate School of Social Work was organized.

Carlson Hall opened as a dormitory for women. The football team played in its first bowl game, the Sun Bowl, and defeated the University of New Mexico.

The Einar Nielsen Field House was completed.

LeRoy E. Cowles was appointed President. He served from 1941-1946. Leonard Kirkpatrick was appointed Library Director.

The Medical School expanded to a four-year program leading to the M.D. degree.

The basketball team won the NCAA championship. Enrollment dropped to 3,418 because of the war.

The Graduate Program was expanded to allow for the granting of doctorates. The postwar influx of GI Bill students increased enrollment considerably and forced the University to expand into temporary buildings from Fort Douglas. Enrollment jumped to 6,821 during the first year after the war ended.

A. Ray Olpin was appointed president. The Graduate School was made an integral part of the University. Enrollment increased to 9,859.

The Outdoor Festival, a U institution for 18 years, began to present operas and other musical productions in the stadium bowl. The first doctoral degrees were awarded.

The Utah Symphony was invited to make its home on the University campus, which then led to incre-ased exposure and instruction of the performing arts at the University. The University dance program, particularly ballet, became nationally recognized. A 300-acre tract was ceded from Fort Douglas to the University, more than doubling the University's size. A large increase in students necessitated bringing moveable buildings from the Topaz Relocation Camp and from as far away as VanPort, Oregon.

Roger Bailey arrived from Michigan and organized the first Department of Architecture.

In its first nationally telecast football game, Utah beat BYU, 33-32.

The University embarked on a 10-year building program that radically altered the campus. The decade saw more than 30 major buildings constructed. KUED was established, the 29th educational station in the nation. It proved so successful that the University started efforts to set up an FM radio station.

Construction on the Merrill Engineering Building was started, with the college becoming separate from the College of Mines. The University acquired a 35-acre site on which to build married student housing south of the Veterans' Administration Hospital. The Department of Political Science was established.

A massive building program during the decade of the 1960s produced Pioneer Memorial Theatre, the bookstore, VanCott Hall, a central heating plant, married student housing, much of the medical complex, the Physics Building, the College of Law Building, the Marriott Library, the Special Events Center (now the Huntsman Center), the Health, Physical Education, and Recreation complex, new Biology and Chemistry buildings, and other facilities.

The new University did not achieve immediate stability. Its fortunes ebbed and flowed over the next 20 years, including a period of time when operations were actually suspended. In October 1874, President John R. Park opened the library and reading room, stocked with his personal collection of books on loan to the University. The Reading Room, located in a corner of the first floor of the Council House in downtown Salt Lake City, had seats and desks for 50 readers. The number of enrolled students was 167. That ratio of students to library seating has never been replicated in the University library. Twenty years later, Park officially donated his entire personal library, totaling 3,400 volumes, to the University.

Between 1884 and 1900, the University was located at the Union Academy at Second West and Fourth North. In 1900 the University moved to its present east bench location. The library was in a room of the current Leroy Cowles Building, which was then called the Liberal Arts Building, the Library Building, or just simply the "L" Building. The library housed 12,950 volumes with seating for a mere 100 students out of a total student body of 765, raising that enviable student/ library seating ratio of 3.34 students per chair in 1874 to 7.65 students per chair.

In 1906 Esther H. Nelson became the first professionally trained librarian at the University of Utah, continuing in that position until her retirement in 1941. When asked for the adjective that best described Nelson, Martha Ross Stewart BA'35, a retired librarian who was a University of Utah student in the 1930s, quickly pronounced her "formidable." Efficiency and devotion characterized her 42 years of service. Nelson presided over the library's move from the "L" Building, where it had outgrown its quarters, to the newly constructed Administration Building (now the John R. Park Building) in 1914. The library was on the third floor and a cafeteria and soda fountain were in the basement. This arrangement gives present-day students, faculty, and staff grounds to be nostalgic for the "good old days." Students of that era could do their library reading and research and then have lunch or take a coffee or soda break without leaving the building.

In 1935, the redoubtable Nelson presided over another library move, this time to the new George Thomas Library Building (now the Museum of Natural History), built with an appropriation of $550,000 from the Public Works Administration. The words of Professor William Mulder BA'40 MA'47 give insight into how students reacted to the beautiful new library building:

I remember the deep peace of sitting in the main reading room, now the domain of dinosaurs, a room with a view, its vaulted ceiling an invitation to lofty thinking.
I remember the sense of daily renewal as I mounted the broad marble stairs to the second floor where the card catalog stood, and read, for the hundredth time, the inscriptions cut in marble at either end of the wide hallway.

At one end this from Milton: "What in me is dark illumine/What is low raise and support." And at the other, this from Proverbs: "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom/And the man that getteth understanding." (Mulder, p. 11-12)

The period following World War II through the 1950s was one of rapidly increasing enrollments, and by 1960 the Thomas Library was inadequate. Construction of a new $7 million library began in 1965. Wallace Stegner BA'30 gave the dedicatory address on May 17, 1968. The new library housed 1,178,985 volumes and provided seating for 3,000 students. Based on projected 1968 enrollments, planners felt that 3,000 seats would accommodate 25 percent of the student body, but by the time the library opened, these seats could hold only 16 percent of the student population.

On August 18, 1969, the new library was officially named the J. Willard Marriott Library in appreciation of a gift of Marriott Corporation stock worth $1 million, the largest single donation ever received by the University up to that time. The gift was to be used to enhance the library's collections. The Marriott association with the library has a long pedigree-and not only for scholarship. In February 1926, J. Willard Marriott BA'26 first saw the coed who would become his wife, Alice Sheets BA'27, in the University's Administration Building as he was making his way from the library on the third floor to the cafeteria in the basement (O'Brien, p. 107).

On October 2, 1996, the Marriott Library was rededicated at a ceremony welcoming users to a new 210,000-square-foot addition. The addition, which almost doubled the size of the library from 278,000 to 488,000 square feet, brought the total capacity of the library to 3.5 million volumes with seating for 3,500 users. Much of the original seating that existed when the library opened in 1968 had been eliminated to make way for desperately needed shelf space. J. Willard Marriott, Jr., BA'54 son of the library's namesake, spoke at the rededication, and Karen Lawrence, professor of English, gave the keynote address. Professor Lawrence said:

Libraries themselves construct our cultural future as well as preserve our cultural heritage. Like Janus, the god of Roman mythology, a great library looks forward and back at the same time. Neither nostalgia nor amnesia will do.

The redesigned Marriott Library is an impressive physical space housing vast intellectual resources befitting a modern research university. Valuable primary materials treasured by scholars in fields such as Western Americana and Middle East Studies are found in the same building where users may access the latest computer-based technologies.

People look back at their history to stay in touch with and honor their antecedents and, just as importantly, to be better predictors of our future. So what can one foresee about the libraries of the 21st century? First, libraries must continually change. During the years in which the University's libraries were developing, the world was discovering new knowledge at an astonishing rate, and the libraries grew and changed to accommodate that growth. Despite often discouraging funding shortages, the University has always, eventually, found a way to keep its libraries growing and advancing.

Second, the story of great libraries always includes stories about people. Libraries are not silent warehouses. Just as the Library of Congress grew to 20 million volumes from the personal collection of Thomas Jefferson, so did the U's library begin with a gift of books from a founding father. It has always required the strength of character and purpose of "redoubtable" librarians and other dedicated professionals to build and organize excellent collections. The history of every university library includes partnerships with people that made the difference between the ordinary and the excellent. At the U, the partnership with the Marriott family continues today and is the most visible of many such vital and sustaining relationships. Each is a story about people and their vision for a great University library.

History indicates that a fine university library is greater than the sum of its parts. Books, journals, computers, photocopiers, and handsome facilities are among the library's fundamental elements. But beyond these components, libraries have a larger meaning for the university community, inspiring the most eloquent professors (witness Mulder, Stegner, and Lawrence) and the freshest novices ("Cool building, you guys!"). The library symbolizes the deepest and most cherished hopes for ourselves, our children, and our civilization.

In the 21st century the University's libraries will incorporate capabilities as unimaginable as the World Wide Web was to the college student of 1950. But one can predict with certainty that the U's libraries will grow and change with the times, attract and embrace extraordinary and generous people, and continue to inspire lofty purposes for all the generations.

-Margaret Olsen BA'88 is assistant to the director of the Marriot Library


1. Chamberlin, Ralph V., The University of Utah: A History of Its First Hundred Years-1850 to 1950, Harold W. Bentley, editor, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1960.

2. Mulder, William, "Transitions & Transformations: Bits & Bytes of Marriott Library History," presented at the Annual Spring Banquet of the Friends of the Libraries, May 9, 1995.

3. O'Brien, Robert, Marriott: The J. Willard Marriott Story, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1995.

4. Stegner, Wallace, "The Book and the Great Community," delivered at the dedication of the Marriott Library, May 17, 1968

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