Memorial Library Story

Fred G. ’70

I heard that when Memorial Library was constructed, the intention was to have another story added at a future date. But the original plans forgot to take into consideration the weight of all the books, so the expansion upward couldn’t be done. Any truth to this?

Abe

That’s a great legend, but sadly, it’s not true. Memorial Library is, in fact, not only taller than it was when it first opened in 1953, but it’s also wider. The initial plans for the building had it five stories tall, with 11 book-stack levels. It was built to house not only the UW’s then-collection of 600,000 volumes, but an additional 600,000 for a total of 1.2 million volumes. This was believed sufficient for the UW’s 18,000 students. But the student population grew, and UW President E.B. Fred groused that serving the university with Memorial Library was “like trying to run an 80-cow farm with a 20-stall barn.” In the 1960s, the UW began planning to expand Memorial Library horizontally, and in 1975, an addition opened making room for another 600,000 volumes. In the 1980s, even this felt constricting, and the UW decided the library should grow upward. In 1986, the regents approved an eight-story rise on top of the library’s addition. A battle ensued with the city, which felt the taller library would block views of the capitol, and the UW eventually decided to keep the vertical addition to just seven stories and install electric, sliding bookshelves instead, to make more efficient use of stack space. Since 1990, Memorial Library has had the same shape it does today. It holds more than 3 million volumes on its 78.5 miles of shelves.