Students, alumni and administrators gathered in front of Deering Library to commemorate the opening of the Gothic library’s front doors for the first time since they were closed in 1970.
An audience that included University President Morty Schapiro, Provost Dan Linzer, numerous trustees, the officers of ASG and even the grandson of former NU President Walter Dill Scott gathered Friday on the recently renovated steps to Deering Library for a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially reopen the historic library’s main entrance.
Schapiro spoke before the ribbon cutting and described Deering as one of the “truly beautiful” buildings on campus and an “iconic part of Northwestern.” Schapiro then detailed his own troubles with finding his way into Deering and its “catacombs” and declared that “42 years is enough,” before joining the seventh generation of the Deering family to cut the ribbons in front of the doors to the library.
Deering Library opened in 1933 and was Northwestern’s main library until the opening of the new, neo-brutalist University Library in 1970. After the opening of University Library, the front doors of Deering Library were sealed in favor of a single entrance to the library complex.
Recently, however, there has been increasing pressure to open the doors, including from ASG.
“One of my constituents...asked me why she couldn’t walk out the Deering doors and walk onto Deering Meadow,” said ASG Speaker Ani Aijith, who believes Deering could become a “community hub” again.
The University began the renovation necessary to reopen the doors early this summer, which involved adding ADA-compliant ramps to the plaza in front of the library, climate control airlocks to the interior of the doors and security gates.
All of these renovations were completed while preserving the historic appearance of the library, said Sarah Pritchard, dean of libraries, who described the new entrance as “modernized, but you would never know it was modernized.”
Bob Good (Commerce ‘57) agreed with Pritchard. Good remembered visiting the School of Commerce library (now the Listening Center) when Deering’s use was at its peak.
“It was open till 11 at night, and it was a social center,” Good said. “You knew that people were going to be here cramming for exams.” He remembered students hanging out in front of the doors and in the basement hallway, which once housed a crowded student lounge.
David Thompson (WCAS '72) was a work-study employee in the catalog department in Deering when the new library opened and immediately saw use of the old library plummet.
“Students flocked to the new library,” Thompson said. “Deering became used during the day mostly by staff people.”
Janet Olson is one of those staff people today. The assistant university archivist is confident that the opening of the doors will bring students back to Deering, including University Archives, located in the basement.
Students need to experience “such an important part of Northwestern’s history,” Olson said.
Stephen Strachan, the great-grandson of Charles Deering (who made the original gift of funds for Deering Library) and current president of the Northwestern University Library Board of Governors, strongly supported reopening the doors and shared Olson’s view that the doors will bring new visitors, but saw Deering as more than a historical artifact.
“It’s the heart and soul of this University."
Full disclosure: Ani Ajith has previously contributed articles to North by Northwestern.