Heart of the University

Heart of the University Background

“The Heart of the University”: Where Any Student Can Find Answers to Any Question

Andrew Dickson White, the first president of Cornell, was a book collector, and his passion for reading and for acquiring renowned research literature was a crucial factor in building Cornell’s stature as an Ivy League institution. Although he was unable to convince the trustees to fund the building of a library during his tenure as president, he played a major role in the opening of the first library building, now known as Uris Library. At that time, he contributed his personal collection of 30,000 books, which were housed in the space he helped design, the President White Library. White had also helped convince Henry Williams Sage to fund the library building. Sage was later memorialized by Trustee Francis Miles Finch for recognizing that “a library is the heart of the University, the pivot on which its progress swings, the measure of its utility.”

The White Library and the soaring nave above the main reading room in Uris Library set the tone for a serious research atmosphere. In a few decades, the library had reached its capacity. Olin Library was later built as a major center for research, containing not only circulating research collections, but the university archives, rare books and manuscripts, history of science, and Asia collections. Those special collections are now housed in Kroch Library, which opened in 1992. Access to the extensive research materials now located in Olin and Uris Libraries has changed from sorting through paper cards to a series of keystrokes. Books are no longer literally signed out. But many study habits have remained the same: books are still amassed and pored over, study spaces still pursued, claimed, even cherished. And the library is still firmly centered at the heart of the university.