Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gleeson Library - A Storied Journey

The University of San Francisco has a long history of scholarship dating back to the 1800s, but its library, traditionally thought of as the heart of the school, was only built in 1950. The first site occupied by the school that would come to be known as USF was at Market and 5th Street, now occupied by the Westfield Shopping Center. During this early period, the school had no formal library, as the entire institute centered on one school room. The school stayed for five years, after which it moved because of the tax burden imposed on schools and churches.

The new school at Hayes St and Van Ness grew from humble beginnings to become one of the premier centers of learning on the West Coast, said library archivist Father Michael Kotlanger. Kotlanger explained that the old library consisted in large part of donated books, most of which were either science related or spiritual in nature. The books were not located in one central library, but rather in many individual collections organized by subject matter and scattered around the university. At that time, the books were strictly for use at the school, and could not be checked out by students.

As with the rest of the city, 1906 marked a turning point for USF. The massive quake and fire on April 18th, 1906 gutted the school and obliterated nearly everything in it, including all the books collected over the previous half century. The few records that survive from before 1906 were housed in separate locations downtown and in Los Gatos, said Kotlanger. After the tragic events of that day, the school moved to a location near the present day southern entrance to St. Mary's hospital at Hayes and Shrader, a few blocks from its present day location. School officials tried to build up the library's collection after the devastating loss of all its books, but at that time they had to rely on the generosity of donors. The law school opened in 1912, necessitating further book acquisitions, all of which were donated by jurists and legal scholars who had an interest in helping future legal minds.

In 1927, the school moved to its current address at Fulton and Parker. The burgeoning library collection was housed on the fourth floor of Campion Hall, the original university building that served as the entire university for many years. Finally, in 1950, the collection became large enough that university officials agreed a separate library would be both necessary and good for the school. The library is named after Father Richard Gleeson, who spent 46 years in service to the university. Kotlanger said Gleeson died the day it was announced that the library would bare his name.

Under the direction of Father William Monihan, the new library initially housed the relatively small collection from Campion Hall, and had administrative offices and classrooms on the upper floors. This condition was not to last, as Monihan aggressively sought out books for the new library, including many rare books now housed in the Donihue Rare Book Room. These include a fragment of the Gutenberg Bible dating from the 1450s, medieval illuminated manuscripts, the works of Sir Thomas Moore and a collection of letters from the English Catholic novelist and film-writer, Graham Greene. Kotlanger stumbled upon these letters when looking through files in the university's possession. The letters were appraised for $250,000.

As Monihan and his successors continued to build the library's collection, classroom and office space had to move to other locations on campus. In addition to its own collection, Kotlanger said the library once held the extensive personal collection of Adolph Sutro, who was mayor of San Francisco from 1895 until 1897. Space was leased in the library's basement by the Sutro estate until Gleeson library's own collection could no longer be housed solely in the upper floors. The lease was allowed to expire for a nominal rate, and Sutro's collection moved to its current location at San Francisco State University.

In 1997, the library opened the Geschke Learning Resource Center, named after Charles and Nancy Geschke, two university patrons and parents of a former student. The Geschke Center houses the circulation desk, reference stacks, and dozens of computers, both Apple and PC. The center also includes Thacher Gallery, an art exhibition room with rotating exhibits throughout the year. On the east wing of Geschke Center is the Monihan Atrium, a large study area named after the aforementioned Jesuit priest and library director.

The library's collection continues to grow at the rate of 13,000 volumes per year, according to its website, in an effort to maintain its status as a world class center for learning and scholarship. Located at the geographic heart of the university, Gleeson Library truly is at the heart of the school's dedication to learning and service.


Christina Kho said...

The beginning paragraphs on the history of the school and of the campus library were very interesting but I don't think it was necessary. It would have been cool to know more about who the architect was and why they chose the layout that they did (glass atrium, fountain). Also, it would have been interesting to mention the "4th floor" the Language Offices (some professors have their offices up there too)and why the library isn't using that - what was it before? I liked how you talked about the Rare Books and their pricings in the rare books room. your blog definitely gave me a few wrinkles in the brain. :) Also, it was have been cool to have an old picture of the lib (which you did) then a new one of the same spot just to show how that one spot has changed. ONe of your pics with the row of desks by the window and there are students studying on them facing one direction, that actually looks like the 2nd floor but now theres computers there, but the desks are still in the same spot. Anyway, cool blog, very informative.

Michael Vick said...

I think the opening paragraphs set the stage for the rest of the piece, because they show the humble beginnings of the library in USF's history.

The information about the architects of the various portions of the library would probably be interesting, but might be outside the scope of this already large post.

I would have liked to have mentioned something about the 4th Floor. The floor used to be completely occupied by a student study area with full length windows on all four sides. You can see this in the model at the very end of the post. There are pictures of this in the archive room. I don't think I took any because they were difficult to photograph with my camera.

I actually already had the idea to take a picture of the second floor and include that in my post. I just didn't have time this morning. I've included it in my revision. Thanks for the suggestion.

Thanks for the comments and the constructive criticism.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very interesting article. In the fourth paragraph, should it read "library would bear his name" instead of "bare his name?"