The Hesburgh Library is the main library at the University of Notre Dame. Historically, it is the third building to house the University's library collection. (See also Chronology of Notre Dame Libraries). The Library was built on the historic Cartier Field on which Knute Rockne's teams played, and opened its doors on September 18, 1963, as the Memorial Library, at the start of Notre Dame's 122nd academic year. In 1987 it was renamed for President Emeritus Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.
The Ellerbe Company of St. Paul, Minnesota was selected as architects for the library. The design was greatly influenced by the most current library use concepts such as advocating open access to the stacks, and the idea that large open spaces held many distractions and were not necessarily the preferred study environment of all individuals. Another influential idea was that by eliminating most interior walls and having a system of regularly spaced columns to support the ceiling, areas could be transformed readily into reader or staff areas. Also, since both library users and staff needed to use the card catalog, libraries built at this time were designed with large main floors, with both public and technical services operations grouped near the catalog. With respect to the use of windows, the school of thought which influenced the design of the Memorial Library was that windows led to changeable and uneven light conditions, unpleasant glare at some times of the day, inconsistency of temperature control, and a distraction for readers.
The Library is a massive structure, 210 feet tall on a site 315 feet square. The interior is fully 429,780 square feet gross, with two large lower floors capped by a narrower, nearly windowless tower of 13 stories with a smaller penthouse at the top. The two lower floors feature a more liberal use of glass along with brick and tweed granite, and the upper stories are finished in Mankato stone. The building faces south, and it is on the south side that one can see the distinctive Word of Life Mural.
With its size, prominent location and eye-catching mural, the Library attracts the attention of even the most casual visitor, and asserts itself as a dramatic symbol of Notre Dame's aspirations to academic excellence. The building thus functions within a time-honored tradition in which respect for learning is made tangible by the special place accorded to library architecture in the overall context of a campus.
This was taken from:
Stevenson, Marsha. "Style and Symbol: Library Buildings at Notre Dame." WHAT IS WRITTEN REMAINS: HISTORICAL ESSAYS ON THE LIBRARIES OF NOTRE DAME. Ed. Maureen Gleason and Katharina J. Blackstead. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994.
Pictures courtesy of Patty Karpinski.