Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Memorial Library celebrates half a century of existence

Fifty years ago University of Wisconsin students could park their cars in Library Mall, walk through the west entrance of Memorial Library and proceed to light up a cigarette in the building’s cushy smoking lounge.

Now parking is a scarce commodity and laws have been passed to prevent smoking within all state buildings. To say the least, a lot has changed at Memorial Library and the campus on which it stands.

Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of UW’s Memorial Library, the largest library in the state of Wisconsin.

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Much more than campus policies concerning the library have changed since 1953. The building itself has undergone two major renovations and now holds more than 3.5 million books.

“It was the first public research library to impact compact movable shelving,” said Edward Van Gemert, Deputy Director of the General Library System. “It was very controversial at the time [as a structural issue].”

In addition to the movable shelving innovation, the shape of the building was dramatically altered in both 1974 and 1990, when the south wing and several floors were added to the library, respectively.

Particularly unique areas of Memorial Library include the special collections room on the ninth floor, also known as the rare book room, and the basement’s University Archives, a major collection of faculty research spanning the university’s entire history.

The special collections room, built as part of the 1990 addition, is a valuable archive of magazines, manuscripts, century-old books, and even ancient Egyptian papyrus.

Van Gemert said the library is ranked as having not only one of the best rare books collection in the state of Wisconsin, but one of the best in the country.

Van Gemert agreed with the long-held perception that Memorial Library’s primary users are graduate students and faculty, as evidenced by the more advanced and prestigious special collections, but he insisted that undergraduates have also used the facility over the years.

It appears that undergraduates will continue to account for a sizable portion of the one million patrons who use Memorial Library every year.

“I work all day at the hospital so I come here to study at night,” said UW senior Mary Stevenson.

UW junior Justin Gay said he appreciates the solitude Memorial Library offers.

“There is less noise here,” Gay said. “You go to College Library and see everybody you know and keep taking breaks. Here, I can concentrate.”

UW will kick off the celebration of Memorial Library’s first 50 years today on the west corridor of the first floor of the library, where officials will be giving away free cake at 11 a.m. and then continue on with tours of the library throughout the afternoon.

The celebration will conclude with a 4:30 p.m. lecture and presentation called “Remembering Our Past, Envisioning Our Future: Memorial Library at Fifty,” in L160 of the Elvehjem Museum. Kenneth Frazier, who is the Director of UW-Madison Libraries, will give the presentation.

There is also an ongoing exhibit by UW Archivist David Null near the library’s main entrance that marks the history of the library that will run through Nov. 1.

While the building will continue to undergo changes and faces new challenges, including budget, space, and digital archive issues, the attitude of students has stayed the same.

“Free cake?” UW senior Tony Cacchione said, standing in the west corridor study area, former home of the now-extinct smoking lounge, “Yeah, I’m going to be here for that.”

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