Balk: Northwestern deserves a better Main Library


Tim Balk, Opinion Editor

You will have to forgive me, but I tend to get a little romantic about libraries.

Historian Shelby Foote once wrote that “A university is just a group of books gathered around a library,” and antiquated as that may sound, it still bears some truth.

I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a household where library trips were regular occurrences. I spent long hours of my childhood hidden between bookshelves, hunched over sports or superhero books. A love of libraries was born, and I carry it with me to this day.

Thus, I try to spend as much time at the library at Northwestern as I can, even if I rarely have time to check out a book and even if the wealth of knowledge housed on the bookshelves is comparatively small in relation to the sea of information accessible through my laptop.

I think NU students are lucky that the school’s main library is located right smack in the middle of campus, and it’s nice that Deering Library is one of the symbols of the school.

Plus, I love Deering Library. Its Hogwartsian staircases and tremendous reading room are beyond cool.
I just wish we could do something about that monstrosity behind it.

Although I appreciate both the size and location of Main Library, I cannot help but wonder each time I pass it who could possibly have thought that building it in brutalist style was a good idea.

Built in 1970, it is forbiddingly ugly on the outside, sterile on the inside and exceedingly challenging to navigate.

Main, the aesthetically unfortunate appendage of Deering Library, only has one entrance and is strangely divided into separate towers. Each is confusing and frustrating to navigate, and the setting is generally disjointed and unsettling.

Anyone who has gone in search of texts for research papers knows the dizzying feeling of walking in circles in the towers between lofty shelves of books.

Main does not encourage its own use. Looking for books in Main is a nightmare, and Deering provides a brighter, cheerier studying atmosphere.

Given that NU is in the throes of construction and renovation to many of its buildings — including Mudd Library on North campus — why not take a serious look at rebuilding, or at least restructuring, Main Library?

Sure, it’s a massive project to take on. But rebuilding the whole darn thing to look and feel more like the building it is attached to would have a massive effect on the appearance and feel of mid-campus.

At the very least, adding another entrance and possibly a better dining option instead of just Cafe Bergson would be welcome improvements to the Main of today.

Either way, there’s plenty of room for improvements.

Main is unfriendly and gloomy. NU deserves a better main library.

Tim Balk is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.