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Love for the library revealed in 10 millionth volume

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


Jennifer Hain examining an old book
Photo by Bill Wiegand
Labor of love Jennifer Hain, a UI conservation librarian, was the coordinator of the 10 millionth book project. The celebrated 10 millionth volume is a one-of-a-kind as it was created by library faculty and staff members and friends. Library.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A national treasure is adding another gem to its collection.

The Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – the largest public university library in the world, a place so beloved by faculty, students and scholars that people have been married there – has acquired its 10 millionth volume.

A dedication ceremony for the milestone acquisition will take place at 1 p.m. Oct. 10 (Friday) in the Marshall Gallery of the University Library, 1408 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana. Nancy Cantor, chancellor of the Urbana campus, and University Librarian Paula Kaufman will speak to invited guests, including faculty members, staff, students and Library Friends.

According to Library officials, the 10 millionth volume is a book unlike any other: It is a labor of love, a love letter of sorts – to the Library and from the Library.

Instead of acquiring something thoroughly academic, old and rare, like Sir Walter Raleigh’s “The History of the World” (published in London in 1614), or Pomponius Mela’s “Cosmographia sive De situ Orbis” (Salamanca, 1498), the Library faculty, staff and friends decided to mark the milestone personally – with their own thoughts and handiwork.

The book they have created, which includes original essays, photographs, art and poetry, and an introduction by University historian Winton Solberg, is titled “Unlocking Our Past, Building Our Future: A Commemorative Publication Celebrating the University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign as Resource, as Place, and as Experience.” It is an album, in a sense, that chronicles personal stories of affection for the Library and for the people who made and continue to make it one of the world’s greatest.

“The volume’s contents speak to the significance of the UIUC Library, its collections, and its people – those who have come before us and those who will be responsible for its stewardship in future generations,” Kaufman wrote in the preface of the book. The book’s “physical beauty is evocative of the beauty of this library – its buildings, its collections, and the people who make it work.”

Alan M. and Phyllis W. Hallene of Moline, Ill., established an endowment for the Library and underwrote the cost of producing the 10 millionth volume, which will reside in the Rare Book and Special Collections Library.

Two specialty crafts shops, Twinrocker Handmade Paper of Brookston, Ind., and Foils + Dies, a small fine letterpress company in Denver, have been key players in the production process, and for them too, it has been a labor of love, said Jennifer Hain, a conservation librarian at Illinois and coordinator of the 10 millionth book project.

Together, those companies produced one copy of the book totally by hand: They made the paper by hand and then printed the pages by hand. The book, which measures about 12 inches by 16 inches, was bound in-house at the U. of I. Library, in leather and wood with a decorative cover. A few reproduction copies will be made.

According to Hain, Twinrocker is “the only handmade-paper mill left in the United States that does commercial work.”

Hain said that the pages are made of bleached abaca fibers, which derive from the banana plant. The text weight paper has a cold-press finish and is creamy white.

In addition, the paper, which “looks like a paper version of parchment,” Hain said, has “a nice rattle. It’s a nice heavy paper – not a quiet paper – and it has a nice deckle,” she said, explaining that deckle is the term for the ragged edge made when the pulp on the paper-making mold is pulled away from the raised wooden frame, or deckle.

Foils + Dies used a hand letterpress method to print the pages of the book.

Hain explained that this is “the same process of printing that was initially invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1454. The only difference is that the printing plates we are using are cast in one piece per page, instead of having to set up all the type letter by letter.”

In a recent article, the owner of Foils + Dies, which is in the process of changing its business name to Vintage Pressworks, stated that he and his employees are “passionate” about their work. “We like the demanding jobs that no one else touches.”

The occasion of the 10 millionth volume inspired many touching, even loving, testimonials for the Library as a very special “place” and for staff members, past and present.

Kaufman contributed two writings, one of them a poem. She wrote: “Jewel / Gem / Treasure / Words that describe our people and collections / Backbone for research / Student Information education / Resource for the state, the nation, the world / What we do and what we are / Experts / Collaborators / Partners / Colleagues / We are the Fabric that infuses every part of the University.”

One contributor admitted conducting her fitness program in the Library – an activity she described memorably as “laps in the stacks.” Another contributor called the Library his “work companion.” Still another, Vern Lewis, a 1948 graduate of the university and a member of the Library Friends board, described the Library as a “foster mother.” In his prose-poem, his foster mother says, “I will, if you allow, tantalize your senses and stretch your mind until you are sated, and then give more … I send sustenance to all reaches of your University. I am your library. Scholar, teacher, forget not me.”

Feelings have always run deep for the Library, so deep that tales of Library romances are legion. At least two couples have gotten married in the Library in the last 25 years.

Norman Smith and Peggy Ehrhart, who now live in Leonia, N.J., were graduate students pursuing their doctorates in the 1970s – he in comparative literature and she, English – when they decided to say their vows in June of 1975 in the Rare Book and Special Collections Library, Room 346 of the Library.

Rebecca Brackmann, who is working on her doctorate in English at Illinois, and her husband, Craig Steffen, who has a doctorate in physics and now works for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, which is based at Illinois, got married in November of last year on the grand staircase of the Library, just below the circulation desk on one side, and the Reference Room on the other.

Then there was the couple who affirmed their affection for each other and for the Library even more permanently. When they were graduate students, George Carlson and Lynda Tepfer had adjoining carrels in the Library, on the north wall of the stacks. In time, they fell in love and married. On their 25th wedding anniversary, they came back to the Library and had a plaque affixed to the wall of carrel 1012, 10/12 being their wedding date.

The small bronze and wood plaque reads, “In recognition of George and Lynda Carlson on the occasion of their Illinois Silver Anniversary 25 years after meeting in the Library.”

But the Library – all 750,000 square feet of it, distributed in a main library and stacks, an undergraduate library and stacks, and more than 40 departmental libraries and units – is more often a place of information flow and intellectual discovery.

Ranking as the third largest academic library in the United States, it holds more than 22 million items, including manuscripts and archives, microform, pamphlets, maps, graphic materials, computer files, film and video materials, music scores, audio scores and other print and non-print materials. U. of I. librarians field more than 250,000 questions a year, and the Library’s online catalog gets more than 50 million “hits” annually.

And for the record, the University Library never even considered purchasing Sir Walter Raleigh’s “History” or Mela’s “Pomponius” for its 10 millionth volume. That’s because it already has copies of both books, having acquired them in 1935 and 1956, respectively, to mark the Library’s first and third millionth books. Other milestone books:

• 2 millionth book, acquired in 1946, Henry De Wolf Smyth’s “A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes Under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945,” Washington, D.C., 1945;
• 4 millionth book, 1966, Lycophron’s “Alexandra. Poema Obscurum,” Lugduni Batavorum, 1599;
• 5 millionth book, 1975, The Holy Bible: Containing the Old Testament and the New. Translated into the Indian Language, Cambridge, Mass., 1663;
• 6 millionth book, 1982, John Flamsteed’s “Historiae Coelestis,” London, 1712;
• 7 millionth book, 1986, Bernhard von Breydenbach’s “Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam,” Mainz, 1486;
• 8 millionth book, 1992, Frank Lloyd Wright and William Herman Winslow’s “The House Beautiful,” River Forest, Ill., 1896-97;
• 9 millionth book, 1998, “Practica et Arte di Cavalleria,” Germany, 1616.