VOL. 9 NO. 3 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH WINTER 1999-2000
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 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:
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:
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
Copyright 1999 by The University of Utah Alumni Association