Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 8, 2019

National Library Week: A University Library in Oregon

It’s National Library Week in the United States, always a cause for celebration for this fan of libraries. This year, I’m featuring libraries I encountered during a recent trip to the American Pacific Northwest.

While most of us think first of our local public library, there are countless other types, as well. Governments, businesses and religious organizations maintain libraries to serve their particular requirements. Some of the largest and most significant libraries around the world are those at colleges and universities. A good library is an important part of any school’s assets, an excellent library may distinguish a university from others, and a world-class research library is a requirement for schools intent on attracting and retaining first-rate scholars and researchers.

Our base for the recent trip was Eugene, Oregon, home to the University of Oregon (UO).

U of O quad Brad Nixon 4658 680

While its enrollment of 22,000 doesn’t place it among the largest American universities, UO is highly regarded as a research institution, and has a number of specialized libraries for science, mathematics, law, marine biology and design. The school’s main library — the one most undergraduates, are familiar with — is the Knight Library.

Knight Library Brad Nixon 4657 680

Built in 1937, renovated and expanded in 1950, 1966 and 1994, the Knight Library holds more than three million items in a wide variety of media and disciplines.

Knight Library Brad Nixon 4669 680

It stretches across the southern side of grassy, tree-covered Memorial Quadrangle. On the east of the quad is the 1933 Jordan Schnitzler Museum of Art.

Schnitzer Museum Brad Nixon 4666 680

Walking into Oregon’s library, I was confronted by seemingly acres of carpeting with tables holding workstations.

Where are the books?

Knight Library int Brad Nixon 4662 680

No, I’m not that clueless. A significant percentage of the information and resources any student or researcher needs today is available electronically — an absolute requirement for contemporary libraries. UO, in fact, is well forward in its fostering of electronic access linking its own group of libraries, as well as others in a variety of knowledge communities. No matter what their discipline or degree, today’s students are preparing to deal with a digital world, and libraries everywhere reflect the demand on access to digital information.

Knight Library int Brad Nixon 4665 680

There are books — a couple million of ’em — farther into the library, on multiple floors. I didn’t have time to explore the place, but enjoyed my brief look at this extensive university library.

Knight Library in Brad Nixon 4663 680

As you see, there are some stylish new portions behind that Romanesque/Art Deco facade of the original building.

Knight Library int Brad Nixon 4664 680

If you wonder, “Where are the students?” I was there near closing hour on weekend day at the end of the school’s spring break.

As much as I enjoy visiting — and showing you — interesting library facilities, old and new, National Library Week is the time to observe that a library is more than a building, more than printed material, computers, maps, photographs and ancient manuscripts, audio and video recordings. It’s an intelligently designed nexus for retrieving information, and only functions effectively thanks to the work of often unseen numbers of professional librarians, researchers, conservators and archivists.

Although they hail from an ecclesiastical source — not a secular one — the words inscribed above the two entrances to the Knight Library are common in such a setting, and are often found on libraries or school buildings. They appeared on a stone tablet above the entrance to the building where I was an English major in undergraduate days.

Library inscription Brad Nixon 4672 680

Library inscription Brad Nixon 4668 680

Do you have a favorite college or university library? What’s special about it: the collection, the architecture or design, its history — or perhaps simply its association with your own college days? Leave a comment.

Happy Library Week. I’ll visit more Pacific Northwest libraries in the coming days.

© Brad Nixon 2019.


  1. Another fascinating post Brad. It’s difficult to pick out just one academic library as my favourite but the John Rylands library in the centre of Manchester is truly beautiful, perhaps you have already heard of it? I mentioned it briefly in one of my early blog posts but here is a link to its official website. Marion

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for contributing a classically, gloriously traditional-looking library. Libraries have long been a focus for stunning design, inspiring interiors, and Rylands certainly fills the bill.
      In a sense, I felt silly, highlighting only ONE university library, since there are so many, worldwide. One could travel endlessly with the sole purpose of visiting libraries!
      I’m always happy to read your accounts of not only the libraries, but museums, palaces, castles and even factories you encounter. Your tireless curiosity is always envigorating. Travel on!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In my day, “going to the library to study” was as different from “accessing information” as books are from e-readers. My favorite study spot was a single carrel on an upper floor of the University of Iowa library. Stacks still were open then, and that’s where the carrel was. There was a single window near the ceiling that let in a shaft of light during the afternoon, and the smell of old books and dust in the air. I’ve forgotten the names of the books I read there, or the topics of the papers I wrote, but the library itself is as vivid as ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know perfectly well that probably the majority of occupants of any library are only “accessing information” in the sense of sitting in a chair reading a book or browsing the web; that probably holds especially true in the college libraries frequented by undergraduates — it’s often the best place on campus to do so.
      Your Iowa experience is the avatar for them all.
      I relished your observation that you don’t recall the books or the papers so much as simply the experience of reading. Something to that!
      The Counselor remarked about that distinctive library scent as we walked into U of O’s big old place. Something universal in it, although it may be a bit different in the truly ancient reading rooms full of vellum and parchment vs. paper.
      I’m happy your carrel had light. Any of the ones I used to nab on the upper floors of the U. of Mich’s Harlan Hatcher Library were rather grimly lighted, and lacked that je ne sais quois pas. Happy reading.


  3. I have an embarrassing confession to make: I have NO recollection of ever having entered my university library.

    This confession is all the more remarkable when one considers that I was an English major in the Miami honors program and that my schedule was fully loaded with humanities courses each quarter.

    I do remember writing a massive amount of papers each week for my courses. Perhaps the trauma of that experience has blocked out any memory of going to the library. Then again, it could be old age, as it has been several decades since I graduated and moved on to the even greater trauma of law school.


    • There is one other possibility: maybe I actually never visited our library! 😳


      • Seems likely, then.


    • Well!


  4. Nice pictures of the University of Oregon’s library.

    Liked by 1 person

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