Creating the Uris Undergraduate Library

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Left to right: "Main Library" Library Reading Room, University Archives; Cornell Alumni News: Second Youth for a Library. January 1963 (Cover); Two unidentified library staff stand in a now-defunct stairway that led to the “Fish Bowl” from the gallery level of Uris Library.

“The service of a great library should be twofold. it should bring together the sources of information in copious abundance; and it should provide for making these sources easily accessible to every searcher after truth.”

— Charles Kendall Adams, Cornell’s second president. Remarks Given at the Opening of the University Library (now Uris), 1891

As early as 1949, university planners recognized the pressing need for additional library space. This architectural drawing of the library building as seen from Libe Slope proposed alterations and additions that extended boldly into the slope.

The University Library, affectionately known as “The Libe,” served as Cornell’s “Main Library” from 1891 to 1961. After Olin Library was built  it was renovated, repurposed, and renamed Uris Undergraduate Library, after donors Harold D. Uris (Class of 1925) and his brother Percy (Percy attended Columbia, which also boasts a Uris Library).

Together, the two libraries were called the Central Libraries. Olin became the “research” or “graduate” library and Uris the “undergraduate” library, with resources, services, and reading rooms designed to accommodate undergraduate needs. In the early 1960s, this included not one, but two separate smoking rooms in the building.

As part of the renovations, the Great Reading Room, the historic centerpiece of the building, was renamed to honor Arthur H. Dean (Class of 1921), then chairman of Cornell’s Board of Trustees. An Ithaca native, attorney, diplomat, United Nations delegate, and avid book collector, Dean contributed funds for the construction of Olin and the refurbishing of Uris. Its formal dignity restored, the once crowded and cluttered “navelike” space became the busy and vibrant Dean Reading Room.

In 1982, further renovations and the addition of a new underground wing provided even more study space. Generations of Cornellians have studied (and slept) in the “Cocktail Lounge,” the official name of that subterranean space; labored to see and be seen in the “Fish Bowl,” the Fiske Room, named for Cornell’s first University Librarian; and found inspiration in the ambiance and books in the Andrew Dickson White Library, now often called the “Harry Potter” Library.

The Library removed the word “undergraduate” from Uris Library’s name in the 1990s to emphasize that ALL students were welcome to use ALL the libraries on campus. It continues to connect Cornell readers and researchers with the information they seek. Computer labs and reading rooms — many open for use 24 hours a day — offer wireless Internet access to the Library’s growing digital collections. The once-separate book collections in Olin and Uris libraries are now consolidated and shelved as a single collection, distributed between the two buildings.

Continue on to 1961: A Newborn Library...and the World Beyond