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Thanks for coming. This talk originated from all the work that
has been happening during the Norlin renovation planning. That project is just
beginning, but some of the first steps have involved basic assessments of our
building’s mechanical systems and the uses to which we’re putting all these
different spaces. And it’s from that
second part—what are we doing with the space we have—that this came. As I took various architects through the
building, we’d often wonder what the original designers were thinking when
they made this decision or that decision.
And so finally I just got too curious and went into Archives and talked
to staff in Physical Facilities and got lots of photos from our Public
Information office. Through that, I’ve
come up with this brief architectural history of Norlin Library.
In addition to construction of Norlin
which was completed in 1939, there have been three major additions to the
building. The first began in 1952 and
was completed in 1954; it added a basement that extended into what was then a
lawn. The Western History collection
occupied that space, and that has evolved into our Archives Department. The second addition was completed in 1964
adding two wings that doubled the amount of stacks space and seating. Finally, in 1977 the infamous east addition
was completed that added a stacks tower for 750,000 volumes, the periodicals
reading room, the reference area we now use, and the basement space that now
has all of our compact shelving in it.
I want to step back to the original
construction project. The architect was
Charles Z. Klauder. Here you can see
one of Klauder’s early conceptual drawings for Norlin. As you’ve walked through the campus, I’m
sure you’ve noticed that all the architecture is similar—it all conforms to a
common palette. Well, it was Charles
Klauder who designed that palette, and it’s still being used (pretty much)
today. He created an architectural plan
for the campus in 1917 that was used through the 1950s. You can see his model for the campus in the Heritage
room in Old Main. It places all the
buildings as they were to be erected, but more importantly he created the
Tuscan-hill-town style of architecture that distinguishes the campus with the
sloping tile roofs, exterior pink and tan native stone walls, and the informal
placement of buildings that’s so well suited to the mountain setting.
Norlin was one of the last buildings
Klauder worked on, and he died in 1938 only a few months before the building
was completed. Here you’re seeing an
aerial photograph of the building just as it was completed. It took a bit of doing—and about six
years—to get from that early conceptual drawing to this structure. An old theatre and engineering building were
demolished to make room for the library.
The theatre department moved into the old library once it was vacated.
Here’s the original plan for the first
floor. As you walk in through the west entrance,
you pass pillars towards the delivery desk.
Past the delivery desk is a closed stack area that extends to the roof
of the building and is lit by the huge eastern-facing bay window. Off to right are the science reading rooms;
to the left are the technical processing rooms, the catalog, and the dean’s
office. Interestingly, I think the
dean’s office is the only thing that remains constant throughout the history
of this building. Anyway, you can see
the delivery court on the northwest corner of the building and opposite there
is an outdoor reading court.
I’ll just briefly talk about the other
floors. Again, the stacks tower is the
core of the building. In the basement
there are the documents section and the undergraduate reading rooms. On the second floor were the humanities and social
sciences reading rooms. Faculty offices
and reading rooms were on the third floor.
And these were not librarian offices—they were for the teaching faculty. The music room is on the fourth floor. It’s what we now call the British Studies
room and I read that it had a phonograph and several dozen 78 rpm records. Basically, it was a social space for the
campus to use.
Here are some construction photographs as
Norlin began in 1938.
This is from early 1939 as the shell was
being completed. This was mostly a WPA
project. One consequence of that was
that a photographer followed the progress of the building. There are literally dozens and dozens of
construction photographs of Norlin.
Many are very beautiful images.
The bay window, in particular, was photographed a lot. Clearly it was a powerful element of the building
even as it was being constructed.
Roofs are important things. And there was a decision made to install a
wooden roof for much of Norlin. That
wasn’t typical in 1938, and it has been a decision that haunted several
generations of fire marshals. Most
trusses, even then, were steel. In fact
this kind of timber was getting scarce even then. You can see how parts of the building do
have steel trusses. But across the
entire west side of this building is wood.
In fact, these beams are what you see today in the British Studies
Here are those same beams with beautiful
wood sheeting covering the music room (now the British Studies room).
You can see one of the fireplaces under construction
and these wonderful decorative fennels.
There’s this incredible natural light crashing into the room from the
You’d completely forget to notice
that there is no provision being made for artificial lighting in this
There are no exposed electrical
lines, no fixtures being installed, or confidently placed AC outlets
As it turns out, this
building was designed for natural light.
But in 1937, when the mechanical designs for the building were virtually complete,
the electrical engineer from Klauder’s Philadelphia office went to the New
York World’s Fair.
And there he saw
Because of his enthusiasm
about this new product, the building’s electrical system was completely
redesigned at the last minute.
introduced fluorescent fixtures to the commercial market in 1938, and Norlin
was one of the first buildings in the world to be lit fluorescently.
It was chosen “because of the fine quality
of the light … and the claims of economy of operation … .”
Because fluorescents consumed less than half
the power of incandescent lights, you could afford to light areas that were
originally intended to be left dark.
Here’s the west exterior under
Another image of the stacks tower under
construction. Notice that there’s no provision
being made for flooring. Instead, the
stacks that were installed had metal floors attached to the stacks themselves.
Norlin was completed on time and on
budget. It opened in 1940 at a cost of $500,000
(including new furniture). It cost
28-cents per cubic foot and could seat 1,500 students and hold 800,000
volumes. Again, most of the funding was
WPA (Works Progress Administration) money.
The intent was that the building would take care of the campus’ needs
for thirty years. That proved
optimistic but wasn’t too far off.
The first addition was to add basement
space under the east lawn for an archives area. It was intended, for the most part, as
non-public storage space. And, if you have
a photographic memory, you’ll recall that there was virtually no storage space
included in the original design. This
is the original blueprint for the main floor, but you can better see the
intent from this drawing. It added what
we now know as Archives and several thousand square feet of shelving
space. Here you can see the foundation
being reinforced with these buttresses.
If you go into our basement, you can see these buttresses in action.
In 1939, when Norlin opened, the campus
student population was 4,500 FTE. By 1962
that had grown to 12,250. Consequently
a major addition happened in the early 1960s.
Two massive wings—one on either side of the building--were installed
that nearly doubled the space within Norlin.
The total floor space nearly doubles, study space about triples, and
bookstacks space increases by about 75%.
So where the 1939 building had focused on materials storage, this renovation
was about student study space.
This is the first floor plan as it was
altered by the addition. What was added
(on the first floor) was an undergraduate reading collection with a newly
expanded undergraduate reading room moved from the basement. By now, the stacks tower was open and there
was a circulation desk rather than a delivery desk. Also there are a reserve desk and reserve
reading room next to the undergraduate reading room. Notice that the director’s office is still
located in the same place.
This was the addition from which our two
reading courts came—the courts just outside Documents and Special
Collections. This also added the stacks
tiers now used by Science and Documents.
It was at this time that the basement space where circulation now
resides was opened to the public.
Government documents and technical reports were stored there, and there
were some study spaces and a snack lounge.
In addition, several other areas were added during this
renovation. This room, N410, was one of
them. The location of acquisitions and
cataloging were determined as we know them today with a much larger loading
Here are some construction
photographs. One of the things that
happens with any addition or renovation is that some things are lost. And what you’re seeing here are some images
of “lost Norlin.” You might remember
the reading court. Well, it was covered
by the wings. Although you have to
wonder about its security with that ladder against the wall. The loading dock area was moved also and
this court was removed.
Here are a couple of photos of the
completed building with the additions.
This addition was completed in 1964.
But in the 1960s the campus student population nearly doubled. In 1962 there were 12,500 students but by
1972 there were 22,000 students on campus.
These photos are all from the late 1960s
and you can tell how stressed the building is by this time. You can see that by that time, Norlin is
already in need of some renovation again.
So, beginning in 1972, plans for another addition were underway.
This was, of course, the most
And it was
controversial in its time, too.
as long to plan and build this addition as it took to plan and build the
entire 1939 building.
But what it
accomplished was to nearly double the bookstacks in the building, add a modern
reference area, and to add a large periodicals room.
So the 1960s addition was about study space,
this addition was about bookstacks and services.
The older building was intended to be used
as reader space.
The materials and
major services were to be located in the modern addition.
It also reoriented the building from the west entrance to a new entrance on
the east facing the science buildings.
The circulation desk was just as you walk into the building with the
reference area to the right.
grand stairway to the left takes you to the main stacks tower.
If you think about that layout, it does make
For example, there was elevator
access all the way from 3C directly to the circulation desk.
That’s nice design.
The problem, though, is that the architecture is inflexible.
If any one of those elements is moved—like
the circulation desk being moved thirty feet to the left—then the whole
entrance fails to function.
This photograph is from 1976 and shows
the new east façade under construction.
The use of poured concrete is unusual in central campus.
You know how there are hundreds of
photographs of the first child, a few dozen of the second child, and then four
photos of the third. Well, this
addition is the third child and these are literally all the construction
photos that exist. This is it. But you do get a sense of the stacks tower
This was taken in 1977 just after
I want to come back briefly
to the controversy surrounding this addition.
For the campus community, two things happened.
First, the bay window was covered up.
Over the years, that window had become an icon and it was gone.
That resentment is still apparent
It’s no coincidence that the
Humanities building has that apse facing Norlin.
The design for our science library included
a huge bay window overlooking a quad.
And that resonated very deeply with the campus.
It’s thirty years later and the campus still
regrets covering that window.
Second, this façade doesn’t relate to the surrounding buildings or to the
character of the 1939 building.
imposing entrance in a cluster of very warm and fuzzy buildings.
I feel for Ellsworth Mason.
He was Director of Libraries during this
addition and would have had to struggle with some tough choices.
There was clearly no place else to
But the campus needed a modern
He would have had to explain
to the campus why the bay window was being covered.
Since 1886 there have been 11
directors. In the context of the
construction of Norlin there are two—Ralph Ellsworth and Ellsworth Mason—that
are key. Henry Smith worked on the
designs of the 1939 building. But it
was Ralph Ellsworth who made that building work. He was also director for the first two additions. Ellsworth Mason struggled with the 1970s