Preus Library 40th Anniversary Program

On Saturday, October 3rd, Preus Library welcomed alumni librarians, library-information professionals, and archivists to Hovde Lounge to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of this wonderful building. We have captured the program below, beginning with the introductory remarks made by Jane Kemp, Head of the Library and Information Studies Department. Scroll down to read David Hovde’s remembrance of his father during the construction of the building as well as Chris Barth’s predictions for the “future of the library.”

Opening Remarks by Jane Kemp

Preus 40th - Jane Kemp
Preus 40th - Jane Kemp

Today at Homecoming I want to welcome you all to our celebration of the 40th anniversary of Preus Library. My name is Jane Kemp. I am the current department head for the Library and Information Studies Department here at Luther College. We are delighted to see you and share our appreciation with you for this extraordinary building. After our celebration of the 25th anniversary, we decided that we should celebrate again while a number of us are still around who remember the transition from Koren to Preus Library. We are fortunate to have that opportunity with this event.

It is remarkable to us that so many Luther alumni have become librarians, archivists, or library information professionals. Without a major at Luther, we have had difficulty tracking our graduates who have entered these professions. With the splendid assistance of our Alumni Office, it was possible to find over 240 names of living alumni who self identify as one these professionals. It was gratifying to find out this information in time for this commemorative event.

As you can see when you tour the building, we are celebrating the structure with good reason. The original plans for an open design have beautifully accommodated the sea changes which the library has undergone in 40 years. As technology needs have increased and print materials have decreased, this building has remained entirely functional with virtually no renovation and little new space redesign. Recent floor plan changes on the main floor this past summer are the most radical we have seen since the library was built. Please take a moment to look around, enjoy the displays and exhibits, and ask any of the current staff here for tours.

Before we hear from our speakers, I would like to introduce the 40th anniversary planning committee. Elizabeth Kaschins, reference librarian emerita, is known to many of you. After retiring in 2004, she remained in Decorah and continues to be an active and good friend to the library. Andi Beckendorf is our Research and Instruction Librarian while Rebecca Sullivan is our Academic Technology Librarian. We have been assisted every step of the way by our colleagues on the staff who are as enthusiastic about the assets of this building as we are. Duane Fenstermann, librarian emeritus, was especially helpful with the donation of his photo collection of the library collected over 40 years. It can be viewed in the Group Study across the hall from Hovde.

As you know from the name on this building and the text about the history of the building on the 40th anniversary website, we have enjoyed this space largely through the generosity of the members of the legendary Preus family. In addition, the family philanthropy has provided generous endowments and the donations of rare books to build the library collections. The family includes two past Luther College presidents, father and son, C.K. Preus and O.J.H. Preus. At the dedication service in 1969, four Preus family members were honored: Herman A., seminary professor; Wilhelm C., attorney; Paul G., college president; and, Nelson F., churchman. Memorial plaques throughout the building recognize Preus family members as well as other donors. A bronze bust of Herman Amberg Preus by the eminent sculptor, Gilbert Risvold, created in 1925, is prominently displayed on the Main Floor of the building. Family members joining us today are David Preus and his wife, Anne; Betty Preus; Nick Preus, and Maddy Preus.

David Hovde

Kemp Introduction: We are honored today to introduce our first speaker, David Hovde. David is the son of Oivind Hovde, the planner, designer, and former Head Librarian of Preus Library. David’s memories of his father’s work with this wonderful building will be the focus of his talk.

David received a BA degree from Luther in Anthropology in 1975. This was followed by an MA, also in Anthropology, from Wichita State University and an MLS degree from Louisiana State University. David is currently an Associate Professor of Library Science and Research and Instruction Librarian at Purdue University. David has an impressive resume of publications including authorship of two books and several book chapters, numerous journal articles, encyclopedia articles, and book reviews. He has been active professionally with the American Library Association, being both a member and chair of several national committees. In addition, David has provided service to Purdue University working with many committees to help govern the University. In his spare time, David has been actively involved with his community in Indiana, working with the local library and county historical association. He has contributed papers on the Lewis and Clark Expedition to state and local groups as well. Please join me in welcoming David Hovde to speak to us today.

Preus 40th - David Hovde
Preus 40th - David Hovde

David Hovde: Luther College in 1960s was a wonderful time for a kid like me. Looking back, from a kids perspective, it seemed like we lived a Leave it to Beaver life style; where all the mothers in the neighborhood looked out for all the children and where no one locked their doors. On any given summer day my friends and I, most of whom were the sons of college faculty and staff, would get together and go exploring down where the football field is today (then a giant field of marijuana and nettles), or hike in the woods where Ylvasaker and the Towers Dorms are and behind in the hills above the College farm and elsewhere. The trout in Twin Springs were doomed and nearby the rock quarries were the best 22 rifle ranges anywhere. Lots of trees had forts in them made by us or our older brothers. Nights were for kick the can; a wonderful game for a simpler time. Sunnyside Hill and the hills on the other side of Hwy 52 were our ski and sledding hills. I’ll never forget the day when a kid on a sled rocketed down Sunnyside jumped the sidewalk and slid under a moving truck and came out the other side unscathed.


The best part though was the massive building campaign during that time. I remember the Valders Hall of Science being built and dedicated in 1961, Union in 1962, Ylvisaker in 1964, the Tower dorms 1966 and 1968. I remember them as holes in the ground and I was fascinated by the various layers of soil and clay as I looked for fossils and artifacts. The junk piles of waste lumber and copper tubing were our hardware stores. The first three buildings, as they were being built became to us boys bombed out ruins full of Nazis or Confederates awaiting their fate. We saved the campus many a Saturday from those evil doers, rooting them out of trenches, tunnels, and the unfinished hallways, classrooms, laboratories, and dorm rooms. It was both fascinating to watch the process of construction and growth; and sadness as the baseball diamond, football field, and forest and fossil rich cliff face gave way to the expanding campus.

I also remember being an absolute pest to the staff of the old Koren Library. I remember being fascinated by such things as the electric eraser which if you held it long enough it drilled right through the paper. I loved the Kiddy Lit collection on the first floor in my younger days and later using the material in the Reading Room for my school papers and being shushed at for making too much noise. The statue of Christ looked over us as we studied obviously placed there to remind us of our deeply ingrained Lutheran guilt. The completely unsafe service elevator was my favorite part of the Koren Library. At the time I could only guess at the number of hands and feet that thing ate over the years.

The Koren Library was a Carnegie style library that can be found all over the United States in state, academic, and public library settings. These libraries, no matter where in the United States you find them, have almost an identical layout. It is very similar to the old 1913 Main Library at Purdue University. The other things these libraries have in common is that at the time there was little input from the local librarians, and certainly not users, as far as local needs and functionally. As library services changed over time and technologies advanced – these buildings being fixed in functionally and work flow – quickly became a hindrance to students, faculty, and staff. They could not be adapted to the changing needs of the seminar method of teaching.

The stacks in the rear of the building are of a French design of the late nineteenth century. It was a design for a different climate and a different library culture. Yet, these structures were built all over the United States. The stacks were designed for compact book storage and staff retrieval and not a public space. They were even less adaptable since the cast iron and steel shelving was the support structure for the floors and at times the building itself. Remove one section and the whole thing collapses. To let in light the floors were often glass or steel grate. When women became common place on library staffs these floors were replaced by marble and concrete. The furnace, being in the basement, sent hot air along the walls and in Midwest winters that meant that it had to be 90 degrees on the first floor in order for it to be 50 on the top floor. Of course the books and journals on the lower floors suffered greatly. The only thing you can do to improve such a building is to tear it down. Like so many others, including the one at Purdue University, these structures could not handle the needs of the quickly expanding colleges and universities in the mid-twentieth century.

Enter the modular concept originated in the 1930s by Angus Macdonald who recognized that several support posts could be merged, placed further apart, and still support the weight of the building. World War Two slowed the development of the concept, but beginning in 1944 architects and librarians got together at the national level in what was called the Cooperative Committee on Library Building Plans that merged structure, function, and adaptability. The idea behind these building was a good one; adaptable with few fixed interior walls and exterior walls that could be easily removed for adding additional space. The major problem with these in the early days was that many were as ascetically pleasing as a big box super store with large flat roofs and temporary walls that made for serious structural problems later on.

My father was like all fathers of the day absorbed in his work. The faculty and staff in those times gave their all for Luther and many had been students here. They lived, ate, and breathed Luther College. After supper Dad would walk a circuit in the living room for hours and hours with book catalogs, documents, and blue prints marking and scribbling with his trusty red pen. He never once looked up and never hit a piece of furniture. I assume he was keeping in shape for his next game of golf.

I remember the summer of 1960 when we moved out to Thousand Oaks, California. Dad had been chosen to start the library for the new California Lutheran College. The library then was in a Quonset hut complete with a rat dog. We were surrounded by orange trees for miles in any direction and the TV show Raw Hide was filmed quite literally across the fence from our house. Of course then I had no idea what an honor and responsibility that task was for him.

I didn’t really know at the time what my father was up to. I did know he was fascinated by library architecture. When we went on vacation we had to stop for two things, some damn bird on the telephone wire or some newly built college library. I had little patience for either one. After all there were Civil War battle fields awaiting my attention or an ocean beach that must have ship wrecks wedged in the sand that needed exploring. I must have absorbed something however. When I went to Library School at Louisiana State University in 1984 my professors were somewhat surprised at my knowledge of the history of library architecture. When I told them why a few actually knew of this library and the recognition it received. I was very proud of that.

Dad was a scholar and I could never understand why he didn’t write articles and books. For him though, a librarian’s job was to help others write those term papers, books and articles. He was a strong believer in serving others in the college, the larger academic community, professional associations, the church, and the community. The jobs he took on and the committees he chaired are too numerous to mention here. I guess this building was his book he co-authored with Don Gray. Don Gray, was also a friend, had a sense of humor. In one of the later versions of the blueprints for the building, Don had added a little closet off the head librarian’s office entitled “Oivind’s Golf Clubs.” Don didn’t say a thing about it until Dad found it as he poured over the plans some days later.

One public service he preformed was settling bets made by inebriated veterans at the VFW hall who would call him up in the evenings because he was the one person they could trust; the one person who would have the correct answer. He always did this cheerfully. To him it was another public service. One night when he was gone; one of those gentlemen called wanting to settle a bet. It was my first reference question and I believe I was in high school. It concerned what city during WW II suffered the most casualties when bombed; Dresden or Hiroshima. I found the answer in an almanac located on his reference shelf near the phone.

I remember the ceremonial ground breaking and thinking how silly it was for a bunch of people turning over mounds of dirt that had already been dug up. What a waste of effort. Being on the Luther College speed crew with its numerous bosses all with different ideas on how we should perform our work, one learned quickly about having to do things more than once. I remember the sample exterior walls of different brick and mortar and I remember the huge hole in the ground where the football field had been. The first things to rise from the ground were the pillars; large gray square things with reinforcing rods sticking out. Somewhere deep inside several are pennies and a DMH scraped into the then wet cement.

As it came into being and took shape we made frequent tours of the structure. Once it was completed I helped move the new furniture from the semis into the building and later we moved the books; by pickup in cardboard boxes or book truck by book truck from Koren to the new building. Down the Koren service elevator that would give OSHA inspectors nightmares, across High Street, past Brandt Hall where you could write your initials in the stair wells asbestos or fiberglass coated ceilings, and through the front door of the new library. As novices to the job of moving books we learned that trying to take an entire shelf of books and transferring them in mass to a book truck, or from book truck to shelf, was a bad idea. No matter how many times we tried to master the technique. Often enough the small book in the center of the shelf load would cause the whole thing to escape your grasp and then more work had to be done picking the books off the floor before Mr. Fensterman showed up. But we finished and what a sight. It was a beautiful place, an award winning place. It was a perfect library, extraordinarily functional and adaptable library with numerous cutting edge features. Things such as carpet, seminar and group study rooms were just then being experimented with in library architecture. My father knew the needs of the students and faculty would change. He anticipated the expansion of library technologies and with Don Gray the two of them created a building that met the changing needs of academia much of which Dad would never see, but knew they were coming. I know my father was proud of the library, but he was never boastful or expected any honors, he was proud however, of what the library did for furthering the prestige and mission of Luther College.

One closing story I must tell. There is one thing that belonged my father still here in this building. Dad was also a golfer; a passionate one. Dad made only one hole-in-one in his life, and the event made the Decorah paper. The night before the dedication of the library and the laying of the cornerstone, Dad crept up to the building site, and dropped the newspaper clipping and the golf ball that had found the cup in one shot into the metal box with all the other documents to be preserved in the cornerstone, where they lie to this day. My brother Peter was the only one he told about it, and he was sworn to secrecy. At the 20th anniversary, Peter did pass this bit on to the President, who told the secret to all those assembled.

Christopher Barth

Kemp Introduction: Now that we have celebrated our past, we also must look toward the future. Our second speaker is Christopher Barth, Executive Director of Library and Information Services here at Luther College. Chris has been at Luther since 2006, having come to Iowa from Kenyon College in Ohio. He is in charge of our merged organization consisting of the library and information technology services. Chris earned his BA degree from Kenyon in history in 1993 and his MA in History and MLIS from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. As a librarian and researcher who appreciates the past and computer expert who is in the vanguard of technology change, he has been developing his views about the future of libraries. Chris will share these thoughts with us today. Please welcome Chris Barth.

Chris Barth: The future of libraries. No small topic there. Libraries are so rooted in history as custodians of our collective knowledge and wisdom that it is often hard to think of how their future could be anything different than their past. So in thinking about the future, I want to dip back into that past briefly and tap portions of an essay written in 1937 and published in 1939 (70 years ago). Written by Frederick P. Keppel, it appeared in a volume published by the American Library Association titled “The Library of Tomorrow.” In this essay Keppel conceives of a librarian (Rippina Van Winkle) who transports herself 21 years into the future – 1958. The essay describes some of the wonders she beholds:

“To begin with, I doubt if she would be able to recognize the public library building, were she to wake up in a town that made any pretensions to up-to-dateness. She would find no imposing façade, no Greek columns or Gothic towers, and no dorsal hump as the outward and visible sign of the book stacks. On the contrary, the building would be more like a compact factory, and its flat roof would look like a small landing platform, which is precisely what it would be.

However, on being assured that the strange structure was really the town library, she would enter it and be more astonished that ever. To begin with, she would already have passed through double doors, for the library would be air-conditioned, both for temperature and for humidity and, incidentally, it would be noise-conditioned as well. The light of heaven would have full play, with no columns to cut it off, nor Gothic mullions to cross its pathway. Artificial light as needed would be a kind hitherto unknown to her. There would be no great reading room, but in its place an assortment of chambers, some of them lined with books, to be sure, but more of them looking as if they had strayed from some wholly different type of institution. One, for example, might have come from a museum of science and industry, with its array of models of various kinds. Several others obviously might have come from a physics or chemistry laboratory, and still others from a musical conservatory or theater or art museum. Among these latter, one room would have special equipment for stereoscopy and for polarization to restore the third dimension to sculptural and architectural material. The rooms for paintings would have their color sifters and analyzers. Perhaps the most astonishing of all would be the practice floors for the students of the dance, with photographic recording apparatus for comparison, odious or otherwise.

Backstage scenes would seem at least as strange as the public rooms, for, though the young assistants to be found there would be as busy as ever, they would not be stamping books by hand, or lettering cards, or sorting them, but would be tending machines which apparently performed these and other functions at the turn of a dial. In fact, librarianship would seem to Rippina to be largely a setting of dials. There would be no pages, but instead dial-controlled containers would be running the errands of the library—a little reminiscent of the electrically directed torpedoes of old. The older librarians here and there might be carrying on their share of a long-distance wireless committee meeting (for librarians would still be strong on committees!), or might be conversing with a visitor, or listening to records, or even reading a book.”

I love this vision of a library … the center of knowledge, but without assumptions of what that knowledge is, how it is packaged, or how it should be used. Some may have seen Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland has just opened a new library, or as they call it, an athenaeum, with forum and gathering spaces, art galleries, restaurants, a radio station, exercise center, and yes book stacks and computer labs. Sound familiar? In many ways I wish we as a profession had achieved more along this path in the past seventy years, though clearly the information revolution brought about by computers, and the network bring us a slice of this vision (in a way not at all foreseen by Keppel). As Jane Kemp alluded to, our library facility was designed with this vision in mind, that needs would change, and that the building could adapt. While we have not made significant changes to this facility over the last forty years, I do not believe that the same statement will be true after forty more years. William Gibson, the science fiction novelist has noted “the future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.” It’s a great quotation making the point that thinking about the future and how things will be isn’t so hard if we pay attention to what is happening around us. In that vein, I’ll offer a few adjectives I think will continue to describe the library of the future:

  • Collaborative/Social — increasingly our physical spaces need to be about offering a place to work together with information. The tools we have today to build upon the work of others are unimagined even five or ten years ago. The library is and should be a hub of collaborative learning activity. As the world continues to connect, we should provide a fertile place for that activity to flourish.
  • Local — I also love the idea Keppel puts forth, of people interacting with primary material to explore, learn, and build. It’s not just about experiencing the world through someone else’s experience. We are on the precipice of a new cloud-based digital library that will allow us to more strongly focus on our local collections, as our unique contribution to the world of knowledge. We will become more and more a library of the local.
  • Engaged — we need to be deeply rooted in the mission of our place, and working to actively offer ourselves as catalysts for the community to achieve more. Relevant service is critical based upon the current and future needs of our faculty, students, and staff.
  • Dynamic — even though they don’t always like to admit it, libraries have always been changing. Though the rate of change we see today may be unprecedented. We are not the only profession, however, that needs to reflect a greater dynamism.

I’d like to wrap up with another brief passage from Keppel and comment about those who work to make this library happen and how we need to continue to adjust and adapt to the dynamic change in our work today:

Librarianship is an essential profession, and a profession is a calling in which it is the broad human qualities which count—trained intelligence, imagination and initiative, disinterestedness and a sense of social responsibility—not techniques or tricks of the trade. The librarian, to be sure, will be freed from some of the present tasks, from the physical care of dead and dying books, with the attendant problems of binding and stacking, from a cumbersome system of records which I suspect is already out of date.

It is my expectation that as time goes on the librarian in our community councils will tend more and more to line up with the engineer and the accountant, as a purveyor of a background of facts, as contrasted with a foreground of hopes and fears. In community service, the library will continue to be the pinch hitter, in constant adjustment to changing needs and to new ways of meeting them, for the library today is sensitive to changes in the body politic and the body social, more immediately sensitive even than the school, and it seems destined to remain so. It may well be that librarians may have to give over to other professions as yet unborn some of the opportunities for professional service which today they regard as most precious; but if so, they will acquire new opportunities to replace the ones transferred, and the relative position of the profession in the social pattern should not be very different. That position is high and honorable today, and it will be high and honorable in 1958.

We stand upon the shoulders of many information professionals spanning thousands of years who have gathered, preserved, and shared knowledge and information. Some have looked like librarians as we know them, though many have not. In the future, some will look like the librarians of today, and many will not. Yet there is a shared thread of professionalism and identity that spans this work in the past, in the present, and in the future. I am very pleased to work at an institution that values a broad view of information service, and that sets a value on forward-thinking and innovation when it comes to how we provide that service. This allows us, and I would say compels us, to be actively and intentionally working to push the edges of our profession in service to our community, enabling them to achieve more without carrying forward assumptions about the past (theirs or ours). Listen to librarian and blogger Rory Litwin:

“If you regard change in the profession as something that we have no control over, that we have only to embrace or resist, then you are approaching professional questions with the attitude of a non-professional. If you recognize that professional questions are not questions of choosing between predetermined options but questions of values, purposes, creativity, inventiveness, foresight, and planning, then you are fulfilling your responsibility as a professional to guide the profession through a change environment as only its members can.”

It is my goal to have everyone at Luther who works in information service, librarians and technologists alike, looking forward to the future with the eyes of the professional — setting a course to actively shape the future of our work and service. We know it won’t always be easy, and that change is unpredictable, but we also know the future is already here. We just need to be observant to it and distribute it a little more evenly.

Hovde and Barth/Preus photographs by Victoria Di Yin, Luther College Photo Bureau