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Olin & Uris Libraries

Olin: Closed
Uris: Closed

Cornell’s Special Collections

Left to right: Cornell’s Special Collections.” The Cornell University Central Libraries, 1965 (Exterior view of Olin Library; Olin Reference Collection; Olin Maps Collection; “Tiger Alley” with Sculpture Court at far end); Warner, Burns, Toan & Lunde, Architects. Preliminary design for Location of Rare Books Reading Room, 1957; Brochures Describing Cornell University Library’s Special Collections: History of Science Collections (1973), Wason Collection (1969), Collection of Regional History and University Archives (1971). University Archives.

Giving Cornell’s renowned rare book collections pride of place in Olin was intended to “bring the world’s scholars through the library’s doors.”

Visitors were effectively led to the Rare Book exhibition area and Wason reading room at the east end of the first floor by a wide, striped avenue (“Tiger Alley”). A glassed-in sculpture court stood between the Wason reading room on the right and the rare books exhibition area on the left. An integral element of the winning design for Olin submitted to the university in 1957, the sculpture court faced visitors entering the front doors and was open above to the elements. In 1962, Harold Uris (Class of 1925) and his brother, Percy, donated a Cubist sculpture, “The Bather,” by artist Jacques Lipchitz, for the space. The sculpture court was converted to an entrance walkway when the underground Kroch Library was built, and “The Bather” has remained there for nearly 20 years.

Olin was designed to hold a number of rare, valuable collections as early as the mid-1950s. The Wason collection occupied privileged space on the first floor, on the south side of the sculpture court. It held the university’s prized collections on East and Southeast Asia, and it featured its own reading and conference rooms. In 1977, materials on Southeast Asia were separated out into their own collection and named in honor of Prof. John M. Echols. The history of science collections, which swelled throughout the sixties, occupied a suite of rooms on Olin’s second floor. The Regional History and University Archives collections grew steadily throughout Olin’s early decades. All are now housed in Kroch Library.