By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries
PULLMAN, Wash. – More than two decades ago, a small parking lot and 140,000 cubic yards of dirt and trees inhabited the spot where Washington State University’s Terrell Library and iconic dome stand. Terrell celebrates its 20th anniversary and kicks off a new academic year this week with a retrospective exhibit about the library at the heart of campus.
“Terrell Turns Twenty: A Look Back to the Library’s Beginning,” created by WSU business and economics librarian Mary Gilles, runs through Sept. 12 in the atrium exhibit case. In addition, library visitors were treated to free treats on Monday to mark the anniversary of the building’s dedication on Aug. 25, 1994.
An independent library consultant’s survey in 1987 found WSU library facilities inadequate. Holland Library, built in 1950, no longer met needs for more seating, larger work and study spaces, enhanced storage and new wiring and cabling for computers and related digital technology.
Gilles remembers the state of Holland’s physical space. She worked there from 1978 until she and other reference librarians moved to the new addition in 1994. Cubicles in Holland were made of masonite pegboard with no sound absorption. Thirteen librarians and staff shared three computers.
“It was a small space with a lot of people and no personal privacy,” she said. “We were cheek to jowl over there.”
People were not the only things crammed into Holland. Library computer specialist Daryl Herbison recalls that study spaces were removed to make room for more book stacks. He was later given the herculean task of mapping and overseeing the move of half of Holland’s book collections – more than 400,000 volumes – to the new addition.
“It wasn’t overflowing, but it was getting tight,” he said. “We were running out of room.”
An underground library
The team of ALSC Architects (Spokane, Wash.) and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership (Portland, Ore.) designed the addition to be more than an expansion and technological upgrade of Holland. It also had to maintain open space in the center of campus, blend architecturally with its sister library and the Compton Union Building and provide street-side access and parking.
An underground library seemed like the best solution, but it was a tough sell.
“The concept of an ‘underground’ building was highly controversial in the campus community,” said Steve Hindley of ALSC Architects and a WSU alum. “Concerns about the maintainability of a roof several feet beneath an overlay of insulation, soil and hardscape nearly killed the concept.”
The big dig
It took two years to excavate the ground between Holland and the CUB and to shore up both buildings before construction on the addition could begin. The company charged with excavation, Graham Construction of Spokane, hosted a “bottoming out party” with a catered lunch and informal softball game in the bottom of the hole when digging was complete, Hindley said.
“The hole provided the equivalent of a regulation softball field,” he said.
Librarians working next door, including library and archives paraprofessional Janet Feldner, had a front-row seat to excavation progress.
“It was interesting to watch the ground disappear and then the framing go up,” she said. “They had to reinforce it all the way down, and it was really neat to watch.
“I remember the pile drivers shaking the whole building,” she said. “You’d come to work and find little cones of dust on your desk.”
“I was a student here 1989-1993. Terrell was a big hole in the ground my entire undergraduate time on campus,” said Lara Cummings, WSU’s agriculture and instruction librarian.
“There used to be the occasional story in the Evergreen where they would interview the construction workers,” she said. “I remember one interview of a woman who was a mom and a welder. There was a photo of her dangling over what I think is now the parking garage entrance, welding something.”
By spring 1994, the new addition was finished and ready for books and people.
For Herbison, a year’s worth of time and brainpower had gone into planning the book move. He calculated the number of shelves in Holland, mapping sections and the beginning and ending call numbers for each – all without the benefit of a spatial analysis background. He then plotted the corresponding locations in the addition.
New shelves were installed by April, and Franklin Elementary School fourth-graders helped distribute some 18,000 bookends throughout the addition’s stacks in preparation for the book move May 8-15.
“It was amazing to see that long, long stretch of empty shelves,” Herbison said.
Split into teams, 180 library staff and university volunteers loaded carts and transferred books from Holland to the future Terrell Library over five days. To keep morale high, a Move Spirit Committee organized daily lunches and breaks, created commemorative buttons and a T-shirt and printed a six-issue newsletter full of move highlights.
“People were happy and excited, running their carts back and forth,” said library and archives paraprofessional Nancy Beebe. “There was an air of festivity about it and a participatory spirit. We were proud to work in such a facility.”
‘The highest point on this campus’
Former WSU president Samuel H. Smith – who helped shelve books during the move – offered a wish four years earlier at the building’s groundbreaking, “that this library will crown the highest point on this campus as a beacon representing our commitment to providing quality education, research and public service for our state, our nation and our world.”
Terrell Library more than lived up to that wish. On the first day of classes last year, 5,262 people passed through Terrell and Holland libraries to do research, check out books, seek answers from library staff and find a quiet corner to work on their laptops.
Music fills the Terrell floors and hallways on Fridays for the Atrium Music Series. Exhibits created from Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections and other sources give visitors a chance to pause in the daily rush and learn something new.
Hindley expects nothing less from the library built on the cusp of great changes, “at a time when CD-ROM technology was just being brought into the mainstream of library collection management.
“It was designed to accept and adapt to the changes of the future, although no one could then predict how far those changes would take us,” he said. “Today we see minor changes in the library, but the building has adapted well and remains true to the original design as a beautiful asset on the WSU campus, one that remains a great source of pride for those of us who had the privilege to work on it.”
Mary Gilles, WSU Libraries business and economics librarian, 509-335-8740, email@example.com
Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries public relations/communication coordinator, 509-335-6744, firstname.lastname@example.org