The thing about the Reading Room is the quiet. Its aura seems to repel the din and rush at the epicenter of campus.
Maybe he or she just stayed the night.
This was in the days when the library’s
wondrous stacks — 10 cramped and confounding floors that rise only to the height
of the four main floors — were open to
anyone seeking a sort of parallel universe
of unparalleled solitude for research or
memorization (or some variety of
romance, another story McKown knows).
In 1929, at the low end of a slowly
developing quadrangle of functional but
mostly spare structures, a palace rose out
of the ground. It was known simply as
The Library. By 1956, when it took the
name of renowned librarian Louis Round
Wilson (class of 1899), it had grown a
new set of stacks out its back side and was
on its way to the 287,000 square feet that
make it by far the largest academic building on campus.
Yet many, if not most, undergraduates
will confess they know little about Wilson. They rarely go there. There are at
least 18 libraries on campus — not counting departmental libraries and various
reading rooms — and, indeed, Davis
Library and the House Undergraduate are
more relevant to their needs.
But what a shame not to know this
The pre-1968 students knew it. They
packed the Reading Room and its less-opulent satellites and the skylighted circulation desk known as the Delivery Room.
They prowled the carrel-lined stacks,
where a bell ringer made a nightly tour to
announce closing time.
Once we read in straight-back chairs,
elbow-to-elbow, under brass lamps; at the
dawn of the 1970s, we sprawled on orange
and lime-green vinyl in the fluorescent
Undergrad. And Wilson grew quieter.
Once called simply the Reading
Room, pictured at left and on previous pages, the polished floors,
the sturdy furniture and the quiet
elegance now are divided
between the Rare Book Room and
a general study area.
Wilson’s ornate exterior was considered by architect Arthur Nash
to be essential to its role opposite
South Building as anchor of the
southern end of a relatively plain