Library prepares to open doors

V. Paul

It stands four stories above ground and 82 feet below. Its “footprint” was carved into 40 feet of soil, 30 feet of limestone and sandstone deposited for 400 million years.
The crown jewel of the University’s library system, the Elmer L. Anderson Library, is tucked into two caverns dug by a drill specially designed for the project — one of six inventions during its construction.
Eleven years in the making, the $46.5 million building opens this weekend, making accessible historical treasurers from the University’s collection, and from private and public collections statewide, as well as from Wisconsin and Illinois.
Designed by James Stageberg, a University architecture professor, and named for a former state governor and University graduate, the library houses eight archives and special collections and is capable of storing 2.5 million volumes.
Already, nearly 1.7 million volumes from collections such as the Archie Givens Sr. Collection of African American Literature, the Immigration History Research Center, the Guthrie Theater and even Star Trek scripts have already found homes on library shelves.
Included in the holdings are books from MINITEX Library Information Network, an interlibrary loan service that manages the Minnesota Library Access Center.
The center stores seldom-used books from other libraries to reduce storage burdens while keeping the books accessible statewide. In receiving the $38.5 million in state funds, University officials offered to store and lend books from public libraries for free, said Don Kelsey, the University library facilities planning officer.
Andersen also donated his collection of 12,500 books, including one of his favorites: “Floral House” by Harriet Bishop, an account of the first school teacher recruited by missionaries to teach Native Americans in Minnesota before it became a state.
“There was some emptiness in me after (my collection) left, but that was far outweighed by the honor of the University accepting it,” Andersen said.
Students and researchers can simply show up with library requests, which staff members retrieve from storage. A single trip for a book can take up to 15 minutes; larger quantities can be ready by the afternoon for morning requests, or by the next day for afternoon ones.
Despite its huge capacity, the archive section of the library is already 85 percent full, Kelsey said. In six to eight years, the University will have to look at building additional caverns. Space has already been reserved to build three more underneath the West Bank.
Its caverns and underground rooms are specially designed to store different archived materials, kept in boxes or trays and in the dark. Temperature and humidity controls can hold the caverns at 62 degrees Fahrenheit for paper storage. Even colder and drier areas are used for films and electronic devices.
The caverns also make use of sensitive fire control systems, oversized water pumps in case of floods, a crisscross network of gutters to catch groundwater through the limestone and walls engineered to hold up the caverns and the buildings above ground without the use of support columns.
Aesthetically designed
Above ground, Stageberg worked eye-pleasing elements into the building’s design, wanting to marry its function to the natural environment embracing the building.
For example, the walls of the library’s three-story atrium are covered in three shades of blue — darkest at the top to lightest on the bottom floor — mirroring the sky. The archivist rooms along the bottom floor are lined in three shades of green.
“The details needed to be paid attention to, or the building would not have worked,” Stageberg said.
As library staff unpack from the more than five months of moving into the building, staff members are turning their eyes to the artwork in their collections.
David Klaassen, a professor and archivist with the Social Welfare History Archives, hung digital reprints of two Diego Rivera original illustrations in the fourth floor reading room and marvels at the exhibit space on the first floor.
“It’s kind of new to us,” Klaassen said. “We never had a place to do (the displays) before. We’ve never had a chance to really interpret our holdings and call attention to them.”
V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]