University Library

Even before Deering Library opened, in 1933, the University knew that additional library space would eventually be needed to accommodate a constantly growing collection of books and research materials, and to provide study and research space for students and faculty. Proposals for an expansion of the library began in the early 1950s, but significant progress was not made until the 1960s, when University President J. Roscoe Miller included a new library building in his “First Plan for the 70s.” Miller envisaged a University library that would not only accommodate more books and people, but would also become the “intellectual capitol” of the University’s new Lakefill campus, located on 74 acres of filled in lake bottom.

A Library Planning committee was formed, chaired by history professor Clarence Ver Steeg, and consisting of faculty and administrators, as well as University librarian Jens Nyholm, and other library staff members. The Committee began its work in 1962, first surveying faculty, students, and staff for their ideas, and then studying the organization of other university libraries. The resulting list of requirements was used to create a “program” that would guide the library’s design. Requirements included reusing the Deering Library building; centralizing all of the University’s collections in one building; creating new kinds of “reader environmental solutions”; and conforming to the general plan for the Evanston campus. Walter Netsch, of the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who also designed a number of other buildings on the Evanston campus, was hired to design a new library that would meet the Committee’s specifications.

Netsch’s design called for three five-story towers, connected by interior walkways and a basement level concourse. Each tower would be dedicated to a separate academic discipline—humanities, social sciences and history—and would house both stacks and reading areas, with the stacks arranged as spokes around a central study and information area. Carrels would be located on the outside walls of each of the towers, to take advantage of natural lighting and views of Lake Michigan. The new library would be connected to Deering Library on the basement level and through a small tower called the “Lantern” that would also be the main entrance to both libraries. The building’s design was meant to evoke some details of Deering Library’s Gothic style, but in a modern and innovative new structure of sandblasted concrete, glass, and metal. The new library would contain almost 400,000 square feet of space, with room for 1.5 million volumes, and seating for almost 1000 students and faculty.

Construction on the new library building began in August 1966. Originally budgeted at $10 million, the final cost was a little over $12 million. Most of the funds for the new building came from three benefactors: Frank C. Engelhart, industrialist and longtime Evanston resident; Grover M. Hermann, chairman of the board of the Martin-Marietta Corporation, whose son, Northwestern alumnus Grover M. Hermann, Jr., died in World War II; and the Deering and McCormick families, descendants of Charles Deering who gave the money for Deering Library. One of the new towers was named after each of these donors.

The formal opening of the new University Library took place on January 19, 1970, and included a speech by Newton Minow, Northwestern alumnus and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; the dedication ceremony was held on October 21, 1970.

University Lib., Exterior: North Tower and Plaza
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Quick Facts

Date: 1970

Architect: Walter Netsch

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