Today marks the ten-year anniversary of the dedication of the Valley Library, home of the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections.
The importance of the Valley Library construction effort – a $40 million project that was at least five years in the making – is difficult to overstate. The transformation from the old Kerr Library (remembered by many for its rather unusual south-end “cheese-grater” facade) to the sleek modern facility that we now enjoy, signaled a major step forward for students, staff and faculty alike. The christening of the Valley Library brought with it, among many other improvements, a fully-wired information commons, a multi-floor study rotunda, dozens of private study rooms, tens of thousands of square feet for new office space and even a coffee shop. (A video tour of the building is available here)
A strong case could be made, however, that no department within the library was as radically-impacted by the expansion than was Special Collections. The initial Special Collections facility, created as a temporary location in the months following Linus Pauling’s donation of his papers in 1986, was essentially carved out of a pre-existing storage area – the reading room, office (there was only one, for a staff of three) and collections storage shelving were crammed into a space of perhaps 2,000 square feet. The area was alarmed and temperature controlled, but much too small to hold the 4,400 linear foot Pauling Papers, parts of which resided in an off-campus warehouse for about three years.
A glimpse of the original Special Collections space can be seen in the short first clip included below, as extracted from a 1994 development video produced for the library expansion marketing campaign. Notice in particular the computers and scanner contemporary to the era.
We’re pleased to note that the general thrust of the second clip has been, and continues to be, more or less fulfilled. At this point, tens of thousands of pages of content from the Pauling archive have been digitized and are freely-available on the web. That said, the world’s schoolchildren are not, at this point, able to read our letters from Niels Bohr to Pauling, though that’s solely due to copyright restrictions, rather than technical infrastructure.
In terms of physical infrastructure, the change from the original Special Collections facility to our current environment could not be more pronounced. As with the first space, our permanent home is secure and temperature controlled, but now we have a great deal of room at our disposal to store our collections and conduct our work. Included in this space is a grand foyer which hosts a rotating display and has served as the location for numerous university events.
Likewise, in ten-plus years our reading room has hosted the research of thousands of scholars, from Nobel laureates to honors chemistry undergraduates to enthusiastic visitors from Linus Pauling Middle School.
As it turns out, we have yet to see our first comet. But the fifth-floor view is indeed terrific.
Facilities issues are a huge problem for so many archives and special collections – too often, in leaky basements, overheated lofts and spaces infiltrated by pests, our colleagues around the world are forced to make grim decisions about what to preserve and what to expose to a wide swath of imperfect elements. Fortunately, thanks to the thousands of supporters who worked so hard to create the Valley Library, we are able to store our collections securely and in optimal conditions, thus freeing-up most of our resources to providing ever-greater access to the unique treasures secured behind our walls.
For those interested in a closer look at our facilities, please see this behind-the-scenes video tour, led by Head of Special Collections Cliff Mead. Likewise, an account of the Valley Library dedication ceremonies, as they happened in May 1999, is available in the Winter 1999 issue of The Messenger. Finally, our colleagues in the University Archives have released a terrific (and growing) set of images on Flickr commemorating the library’s anniversary.