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U. library enters 21st century after $79 million renovation

Published October 25, 2009 5:55 pm

Rededication » Former first lady to speak at ceremony marking Marriott transition to a high-tech campus hub.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Along with flour, salt and other sundry items necessary for sustaining a pioneer community in the 19th-century West, two expensive cartographic instruments made an overland wagon trip to the new Utah territory in 1852.

The Mormon Church's British mission president bought the three-foot-diameter globes from the London firm Malby and Co. and donated them to the then-University of Deseret. The fragile Malby globes, one depicting the Earth and the other the stars, caused a sensation among Utah residents, who literally loved the papier-mâché orbs to near death.

These relics, which underwent a complete restoration, will stand as a metaphor for the $79 million renovation of the University of Utah's Marriott Library when it is rededicated today.

"The Malby globes were purchased at significant expense and brought to Utah by pioneers still struggling to build a society in the West. They are remarkable examples of our predecessors' passion for education and discovery," said President Michael Young, who will unveil them in a ceremony in the library atrium. "They serve as a powerful reminder both of our ancestors' unwavering belief in education and of the university's increasing prominence on the global stage."

Headlining today's event is former First Lady Laura Bush, an ardent advocate for literacy who will speak about the new role of libraries in the 21st century. She will be joined by Gov. Gary Herbert and Bill Marriott, the son of library namesake J. Willard Marriott Sr., in celebrating one of Utah's largest, most-intensively used and culturally important buildings.

While the globe restoration returned them to their condition in 1850, the library renovation profoundly transformed the 1968 building, changing its appearance, internal flow, seismic resilience and how students use it. Besides ensuring the survival of the building and its precious contents in a large earthquake, the project's goal was to make the library more inviting to students, giving them an incentive to stay on campus while not in class.

The new Marriott is wired with thousands of new electrical outlets and Internet ports and $4 million in furnishings that include 136 Saarinen-designed "womb" chairs, cozy broad-armed seats that live up to their moniker. Unlike libraries of yore, this is a place where students are invited to talk, eat and drink, crank their iPods, power nap between classes, and most importantly, study together.

The library's new Knowledge Commons, 26,000-square-foot expanse of open space on the second floor, exemplifies this new-library aesthetic. The heavily used area is filled with 350 computer work stations grouped on tables and 20 glassed-in group study rooms lining the periphery.

On Friday, brothers Nathaniel and Brandon Cordova were in one, writing mathematical problems on the glass wall in colored ink. The roofs are sound-proof and illuminated from skylights.

"It's great because you can put it up on the glass where everyone can see it," said Brandon, a freshman majoring in business. "We are here every day. These rooms are packed. You can't reserve them."

The brothers, who are from Folsom, Calif., live together on campus, and frequently study with commuter students who use the library for long evening hours.

A cover story in the current edition of the campus magazine Continuum likens the renovation to a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. Indeed, the project pulled down hundreds of panels that once sheathed the building in a concrete cocoon. Glass now envelopes the building, exposing a lattice of steel I-beams that will keep the library standing in a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

Removing the panels not only softened the building's Brutalist edges and allowed natural light to reach its cavernous interior, but also ridded the library of a serious life-safety menace. The two-ton panels were attached by two-inch bolts that would have sheered in an earthquake, said Ian Godfrey, the library's director of operations and a key leader in the project along with library director Joyce Ogburn.

The project started out as a modest $20 million program-oriented upgrade, but as library officials began peeling off the walls they realized they should fix the building's seismic deficiencies.

"It became the No. 1 priority. It requires us to gut the building because we had to isolate every column," Godfrey said in an interview last winter. "By taking it down to the shell, it enabled us to bring in the ARC" -- an automated book retrieval and storage facility -- "and we freed up 80,000 square feet of space by getting rid of cantilever shelving."

While stacks still abound, the library has far more open areas where congregating is encouraged. An old-school library experience can still be found in the third-floor grand reading room, offering views of the valley and opportunities for quiet, solitary study. This is also where the Malby globes will be on permanent display.

After being shipped across the Atlantic and the American continent, the globes found their way to the University of Deseret -- the second university established west of the Mississippi just a few months after Berkeley -- where Orson Pratt and other professors used them to teach geography and astronomy. Teachers carted these globes, the most precise representations of global and celestial cartography for their day, through Salt Lake City streets to share them with enthralled residents.

Sunlight and constant handling took a heavy toll over the decades. Some of the pie-shaped panels known as gores were peeling up, compasses and other hardware went missing and the veneer had darkened, degrading the orbs' vibrant sky blue color into a burnt yellow. The repeated touch of curious fingers rubbed holes through the paper.

"It was a like a talisman," said Randy Silverman, Marriott's preservation librarian. "Utah was physically obliterated. Touching it made it real."

When Silverman first laid on eyes on the globe in the library reading room in the early 1990s, he resolved to conserve and restore them. He relocated them out of a sunlit area into special collections and eventually arranged a $158,000 restoration by T.K. McClintock, a Massachusetts preservationist specializing in reviving cultural items made of paper.

It may have been more cost-effective to simply buy fresh Malby globes, but this pair, the first major gift to the university, anchored an arc across 160 years that connects Utahns with their heritage.

"The settlers weren't hiding out here, they were interested in the larger educational goals of the country and the world," Silverman said. "To the university the globes represent the continuity of education in Utah. They came across in ox carts. They're still here and we're still here."

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What's new at the library

» Seismic retrofit rated to withstand a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

» A robotic book retrieval and storage system, known as the ARC, which stores about 1 million volumes or one-third of the Marriott's collection.

» The Knowledge Commons, 26,000 square feet of largely open space on the second floor filled with 350 computer stations, group study rooms, multi-media equipment and not a single carrel.

» Mom's Cafe, at the northwest entrance, named for the Arizona restaurant once run by donor Ira Fulton's mother.

Library renovation

Cost » $79 million

Timeline » 2005 to 2009

Architects » MJSA Architects of Salt Lake City

History » Originally completed in 1968, designed by Robert Fowler

Size » 545,000 square feet on five floors

Annual visits » 1.5 million

J. Willard Marriott Library rededication

University of Utah

Monday, 10:30 a.m., in the library atrium

Remarks by Laura Bush, former first lady, Gov. Gary Herbert, and U. President Michael Young