Former first lady headlines Marriott Library rededication

Published October 26, 2009 8:10 pm

Community » Facility belongs to all Utahns, director says.
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No formality was overlooked at Monday's rededication of the University of Utah's Marriott Library.

But in a break from tradition, U. President Michael Young bypassed a ribbon cutting in favor of a book exchange between dignitaries headlining the event and four school-age children. The exchange was meant to symbolize the library's enduring role, "the transfer of knowledge from one generation to another," said Young.

But for the Rytting siblings, James and Lizzie, it was a chance to get up-close and personal with former first lady Laura Bush, America's most famous librarian.

"It was so cool," said 9-year-old Lizzie. "I want to be a librarian when I grow up."

Bush delivered the keynote address Monday at the invitation of Bill Marriott, son of library namesake J. Willard Marriott Sr., and a contributor to the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries.

Originally built in 1968, the library was named a year later in honor of J. Willard Marriott, who contributed $1 million for its collections.

It was a different age, said Bush. "The year 1968 was the height of the civil rights movement. Young people across the country were questioning the value of their elders and the United States itself was struggling against the spread of communism."

Reflecting on the act of building a library even as libraries were being burned, writer and U. professor Wallace Stegner called it, "an act of stubborn and sassy faith," said Bush, a former librarian and school teacher. "Today," she said, "the Cold War is over, we've elected a young African American as president of the United States and there are more democracies in the world than ever before."

And the library, has endured, an act of faith "richly rewarded," said Bush.

The Marriott Library is the largest state-funded library in the Intermountain region, drawing 1.5 million visitors a year, said Young. "That's three times the population of Wyoming."

A storehouse of knowledge and cultural treasures, including 3 million books, original pioneer diaries and letters, extensive medical archives and the fifth-largest collection of Middle Eastern materials in North America, the library is also one of Utah's most valuable buildings, said Gov. Gary Herbert.

It's a vibrant community center, where people and ideas converge, said Young.

Only today, thanks in part to its recent $79 million renovation, the library is host to "not just books, but bits and bytes."

A Knowledge Commons combines traditional library reference resources with 250 computers and access to 300 software packages. There's a technology studio to advance digital scholarship, such as database-driven research and multimedia productions. And it features an automated retrieval center where a robot retrieves and reshelves materials.

"There are no card catalogues. No elderly librarians shushing patrons," said Young, noting how the redesigned meeting rooms, cozy chairs and cubbies encourage conversation and collaboration. Food and drink are welcome.

But more than a nice asset to U. students, the library belongs to all Utahns, said director Joyce L. Ogburn. Much of its material is loaned out to libraries throughout the state. And it sponsors educational programs, including one where public schoolchildren are taught the art of book making.

The Rytting children participated in that program. The books they designed were among those exchanged on Monday.

Lizzie's featured a story about a carrot and was decorated with Chinese stamps.

The Marriott Library belongs to them, and all Utahns past, present and future, said Ogburn. "This your library, enjoy."

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