Nothing Personal, Folks

I looked at my stats today and noticed that a lot of readers this week have been coming from the University of Chicago domain and entering on my post about the Regenstein and Harold Washington libraries. While I always welcome new readers, it’ll be 10 clicks in a row from different IP addresses, as if someone sent out an email saying, “hey, did you see what this jerk said about our library!”

I would just like to say that I still feel the same way about the library, but it’s nothing personal, just in case you were sensitive enough to take it personally. Unless you were the architect, which is highly unlikely, nothing I said about the library is a comment upon anything other than perhaps your aesthetic sense, and in that we’ll just have to agree to disagree. De gustibus non est disputandum, after all. However, I thought I would say some nice things as well. While I didn’t like Regenstein, I like the University of Chicago, precisely because it’s the place where fun goes to die and has a surfeit of intellectual students. I’m sure the librarians there are all great. I have a friend from library school who works there, and I like and respect her (Hi, B!). It’s one of the few universities that could possibly ever attract me back to the Midwest, and I like the Midwest. I had lunch today with someone who was a professor there for many years, and after I described my daughter’s school and some of her interests, he said it sounded like she might be the kind of kid who’d be happy at Chicago someday, which would be fine with me if I could afford it. And, by the way, he likes Regenstein.

While I’m at it, I’ll mention another library very close to Chicago, the main library at Northwestern (Hi, M!), the one that looks like a turtle. You know what? I don’t like that one, either, and I think it won some sort of architecture award. Which reminds me, the library at Gettysburg College (where I worked for two years) also won an award. It looks funny and is entirely too dark on the inside, plus there aren’t enough restrooms. These libraries always win awards, but the awards are always from architects and not librarians.The Dickinson College Library has a nice entrance, but weird service points if I recall correctly.

The old stacks at the Main Library at UIUC is the scariest library space I’ve ever been in. My entire first year in grad school I was afraid to go in them because I was afraid I’d get lost and they’d find me a month later dead in a corner somewhere. In addition, they were absolutely opposed to my plan to spread breadcrumbs behind myself so I could find my way out. They were afraid the breadcrumbs would attract too many starving humanities grad students and the place would be chaos. Helluva library, though.

What can I say, I have high standards for library buildings. I like entrances to be grand. I was impressed the first time I walked into the main New York Public Library on 42nd St. No books, but what a staircase! Felt the same way when I walked into the Widener Library at Harvard. Loved all that marble. Then I walked into Lamont and it brought me back down. And when I get inside them, I like light evenly spread throughout the room. No dark shadows. No sickly florescent glow like the opening scenes of Joe Versus the Volcano. Add in concerns about weird uses of space and not enough comfy seats and dark stacks, and very few library buildings impress me.

And Firestone Library? Well, I like the outside, the reference room, and the atrium. It’s probably not politic to talk about the rest, though it will finally be renovated over the next few years and we’ll see. As for our branches, we’ve got a beautiful Art Library. We’ve got another branch library, Not the Art Library, that always stirs thoughts of suicide in sensitive souls. Criticize away. I won’t take it personally.

3 thoughts on “Nothing Personal, Folks

  1. I hadn’t realized that they were designed by the same architect, though it doesn’t surprise me. Brutalism is definitely not my thing. However, I’m interested in interiors as well, and always shocked when I see libraries with poorly lit reading rooms or awkward uses of space. I’m also fond of natural light for reading rooms, and if you have a library with narrow slits for windows, it’s great for the books, but not so good for the people working in the library when they allow no spaces well-lit with natural light.

  2. I like our library more than many people do, but I suppose I must have a high tolerance for concrete. My undergrad experience in the NU library probably softened me up, too.
    Our natural light situation isn’t as bad as it might look from the first photo due to the large skylight visible in this 1962 photo, a photo that I think shows the building looking as good as it is likely to ever look.

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