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Debating the future of Northwestern’s Main Library

February 29, 2016

Gates: Leave Main Library alone


I remember my tour guide during Wildcat Days telling me Main Library was the ugliest building on campus. I see why people take issue with this massive building’s brutalist architecture being planted in the middle of campus. Nonetheless, I am a large fan of Main Library.

The appearance of books flying off of shelves makes Northwestern’s library unique. This stands out from the traditional architecture I saw visiting liberal arts colleges in New England or the more conventional buildings in the schools I looked at close to home in New Jersey. NU’s library definitely does not look like the quintessential college library one might find at a school like Columbia University or The College of New Jersey. I remember one of my friends who visited NU in high school telling me the building is how they remembered the school. Main makes NU stand out and makes it memorable to anyone who visits campus.

Main Library is not only unique to NU, but it is also not consistent with the gothic architecture that characterizes the rest of campus. Although I see the value in consistency in architecture, I think the eclectic buildings on campus make campus more interesting.

NU’s largest library is particularly aesthetically pleasing in the snow during the winter when it is frosted with a coat of Chicago’s snow and it provides a nice walkway to cut across to get from mid-campus to Norris. The fortress provides protection from the cold midwestern weather and fierce winds coming off the lake.

Practically speaking, this brutalist castle contains a diverse array of study locations. Though Main Library’s numerous towers can become full during finals week and midterms, they’re great places to study in a quiet location. Core is a great place for group work as are the various classrooms sprawled throughout the towers. “The stacks” may seem lonely, but are an ideal location to crank out the last five pages of that paper or cram for that orgo midterm in peace. Periodicals provides a place to silently and secretly eat your Joy Yee’s takeout while you study for your Econ midterm.

The sheer size of the library alone is enough to make it difficult to navigate. Nonetheless, being a political science major, I have written many papers using the resources available in Main and found that using the online catalog system and available map of the towers, it was not all that difficult to find anything I needed.

Not everyone likes Main on the inside and many people hate it on the outside. Even still, the sheer amount of resources NU would have to pour into building a new library is reason alone to leave Main as is. I, for one, won’t complain.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached 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. 

Balk: Northwestern deserves a better Main Library


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.