University of Denver Libraries Records
- University of Denver. University Libraries (Organization)
Biographical / Historical
The University of Denver has had three stand-alone library structures. These were the Carnegie Library (1908-1932), Mary Reed Library (1932-1972) and the Penrose Library (1972-2012, remodeled and reopend as the Anderson Academic Commons, 2013-present).
The Carnegie Library was the first separate library structure built on the University of Denver University Park campus. It was built more than forty years after DU was founded in 1864. Just after the turn of the 20th century the University needed a library capable of meeting its rapidly-growing information needs. In 1906 the famous steel magnate Andrew Carnegie agreed to donate $30,000 toward a library if the school could raise matching funds. The University met the challenge and by 1908 had a new library. The building was just the third constructed at the University Park campus. Having already designed the first two, University Hall and Chamberlin Observatory, Robert Roeschlaub, (1843–1923), assumed the role of designing the campus library. Not surprisingly the structure employed the standard Carnegie Classical aesthetic. It was the last of 108 libraries that Carnegie funded personally. The 9,600 square foot one-story library included a basement and main floor.
What is now called the Mary Reed Building was constructed as the Mary Reed Library in 1932. A stone inscription on the front (east side) of the structure still reads “Mary Reed Library” though it has not served that function (other than as a library storage facility) since 1972. The Carnegie Library which it replaced was barely 20 years old but already incapable of meeting the University’s growing need for library resources. To find the resources needed for the ambitious project the University turned to its most magnanimous benefactress, Mary Reed, who was known as “Denver’s Lady Bountiful.” Having already donated the impressive sum of $200,000 for the construction of the Margery Reed Hall in honor of her daughter, Mary Reed provided an additional $500,000 for the library project and a related endowment A portrait of Mary Reed now hangs in the DuPont Room in Mary Reed to commemorate her generosity.
Noted Denver architect Harry J. Manning led the Mary Reed Library design team. The University had decided that it wanted to maintain the same Collegiate Gothic aesthetic that had shaped Margery Reed Hall as they developed the new library. As a result the design team used similar building materials, including rose-colored bricks and Indiana limestone. A crucial decision was the placement of the library. Although some wanted to maintain the open view of the front range to the west between University Hall and the Iliff School of Theology, the University ultimately chose to follow the Jeffersonian model from the University of Virginia: place the library at the highest and most prominent site on campus. Another feature of the building was its floor plan: an “H” shape allowed natural light to fill the building during the day. The new building provided the University with all of the facilities needed for its central library: space for 400,000 volumes, “spacious reading rooms, customized furniture designed by the building’s architect, numerous exhibit rooms for archaeology and art displays, mullioned bay windows, wrought-iron railings with aluminum caps, exhibit cases, and a distinctive clustering of cathedral lights.” The building was dedicated over three days during the fall of 1932.
The Mary Reed Library would serve as the main campus library for 40 years. By the 1960s however it was already clear that the university needed an even larger library. When Penrose Library was constructed in 1972 as the successor to Mary Reed the University found that Mary Reed was easily adaptable to other uses. Today the building houses many administrative offices such as the Chancellor’s office, Provost’s office, and Human Resources. Efforts to modify the building have been minimal, and the marble floors, Renaissance-style woodwork and Gothic-style windows remain. Recently the University demonstrated its commitment to the future of the building by funding an extensive tuck-pointing project that will replace much of the mortar on the structure
The Anderson academic Commins (formerly Penrose Library) houses the main library at the University. Completed in 1972 as the successor to Mary Reed Library, it broke with all previous architectural styles on the DU campus. By the time the unique looking library opened in 1972, the University desperately needed the additional space for its growing book collections. The El Pomar Foundation provided the necessary funds for the building’s construction, and the library was named after Spencer Penrose, the man who had started the foundation with his wife in 1937. Penrose made his fortune by investing in Colorado mining at the turn of the 20th century and the El Pomar Foundation was an effort to give back to Colorado. Not only was the $4.5 million gift the largest in the history of the El Pomar Foundation at that time but it was also the largest single gift that the University had ever received from a foundation. The simple square layout guaranteed ease of use for the library’s visitors. Beyond that Penrose Library was quite different. The main colors on the inside of the building were bright yellow, bright orange, bright red and not-so-bright purple. The seats were unique as well: doughnut chairs, pod chairs and even carpeted formations upon which one could climb.
Penrose Library has changed greatly over the past years to meet the changing needs of students. In the 1980s, the University replaced the old card catalogue with a new computer catalogue. Subtler colors have taken the place of the old vivid warm hues, although they do still remain in some places. Many of the older chairs have been replaced by more functional counterparts. Several outside services have found a home at Penrose Library as well: the Quick Copy Center, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the University Technology Services Help Center, multiple computer labs, and even a new coffee station. Wireless internet access is also available throughout the building. Today, the library’s collection contains well over a million books. Considering all that it offers, the University Libraries fulfill their mission of enabling “the members of the University community to use information resources creatively, analytically and critically toward the acquisition of knowledge.”
The renovation was funded by 5,464 donors. The largest gift came from alumnus Ed Anderson and his wife Linda Cabot. The LEED Silver Certified building reflects 10 years of feedback about ideal academic and library services for 21st century students and teachers. The Anderson Academic Commons will probably remain the main library at the University for decades to come. Although the building has undergone extensive redesign work and welcomed additional academic support services, it will surely maintain the spirit of service to the university community that it has displayed in the past.
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