Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 24, 2016

A Library Under Western Skies: UNM

As we approach our observance of National Library Week, April 10-16, let’s visit another western American library.

A couple of years ago, The Counselor and I returned to one of our favorite parts of the American west, New Mexico. Over the previous 20 years, we’d made the 90-minute flight (or 14-hour drive) to Albuquerque numerous times, without looking around in the city to any great extent. Typically, we’ve landed, collected our bags and rental 4WD vehicle and headed north to Santa Fe, southeast to Alamogordo, southwest to Silver City or northeast to our beloved Chaco Canyon and Farmington.

Seeing Albuquerque – and a Library

This time, we decided we’d take a better look at the state’s biggest city. Albuquerque is the home of the University of New Mexico. Big school campuses are always interesting places to explore. The school is a late-comer by our standards, since our alma mater was founded 80 years earlier, but it’s far larger, with nearly 40,000 students. Every great university, from Paris to Berkeley to Oxford, has at least one great library. At UNM, it’s the Zimmerman Library.

IMG_0957 UNM Zimmerman Library Brad Nixon

The University of New Mexico Zimmerman Library

We were there during the Zimmerman Library’s 75th anniversary. That’s not a long tenure for the library of a major university, but 75 years ago, Albuquerque wasn’t much of a city, either. There’s a charming photo in the library’s collection which shows the view from the brand-new library in 1938, looking northeast. Beyond, there’s nothing but a vast expanse of sagebrush extending to the looming mass of the Sangre de Christo mountains. Today, that desert is covered with city and suburbs for many miles beyond, but then, the library stood at the edge of the settled world.



Imagine yourself to be a new student arriving at the University in 1938 from one of the far-flung corners of New Mexico — Raton, Socorro or Ruidoso. This, friends, was a paradise of knowledge and learning.


The interior still has many of the period features, although those card catalogue banks have been replaced by machines called “computers.”

Judah Ben-Hur, Meet Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee

The Zimmerman Library is a testament to the vision of what a library can be. Large, high ceilinged rooms with broad tables invite the scholar to sit and study the wisdom of the world. I imagined myself sitting at one of these tables reading the work of one of New Mexico’s native sons (and onetime Governor), Lew Wallace, the author of what is reputably one of the most influential books of the 19th Century, Ben-Hur.

Or, if you prefer, you can go to the Willard Reading Room in the original portion of the library, now referred to as the West Wing.

IMG_0951 UNM Zimmerman Library Brad Nixon

There you can access the papers of one of my favorite authors, Tony Hillerman, whose unforgettable characters, Leaphorn and Chee, live in the pages of his books set in New Mexico and Arizona.

What I liked best about the Zimmerman is something large libraries can offer: a vast, quiet space in which to indulge one’s attention to the reading matter at hand. Here would be a wonderful place to sit with a copy of Ben-Hur or A Thief of Time:

IMG_0950 UNM Zimmerman Library Brad Nixon

The landscaping is more fully developed today than in those shots from 1938.

IMG_2124 UNM Zimmerman Library Marcy Vincent

IMG_2123UNM Zimmerman Library Marcy Vincent

Do you have a favorite school library, whether grade school or advanced graduate research? I’m always glad to have your comments.

I invite you to participate in the Under Western Skies National Library Week Project. Before April 6, I’d like to receive your reminiscences or observations about the role libraries have played in your life. What is it (or was it) about some particular library or librarian that made a difference, or holds a special place in your memory? Is there a library that was particularly memorable for its atmosphere? Is there a library you use now that is worthy of mention? I’ll feature your stories during National Library Week.

CLICK HERE to see the full details about submitting your contribution. I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to invite others, too. Thank you.

© Brad Nixon 2016. Some photos courtesy M. Vincent, all rights reserved.



  1. Brad,

    I don’t think this is what you’re looking for but… Here goes.

    I was at the Cincinnati downtown library. As you know Cincinnati has one of the best and most used libraries in the country. It is a cross-section of humanity who immerse themselves in their niche interests in the surrounds of a quiet, brightly lighted environment.

    While doing some research, I left my table to wash the newsprint from my hands. As I stood at the sink I looked in the mirror only to see a naked man sitting in an opened door stall.l behind me.

    The man, seeing my shock said in a raspy voice, “How you doing there sir? It certainly is a beautiful day.” I could not help but to start laughing and while hoping he wouldn’t stand up to shake my hand I said, “Yes it is. It certainly is.”

    I never returned to that bathroom again.


    • I can only imagine how you responded when a librarian asked you as you left, “I hope you found everything you were looking for in the library.”


  2. Zimmerman is a very inviting library. I could happily read, write and research there.

    And while on the subject of Mr. Hillerman, don’t forget another wonderful character — Officer Bernadette (“Bernie”) Manuelito.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I look forward to Ms. Manuelito’s further adventures, too!


  3. I was wondering where you’ve been the last few days. Glad to see you’re back. Haven’t heard from The Counselor in a while. Hope she’s ok and glad to see her here briefly in this space.


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