Table of Contents
Du Bois Library
Design and construction
Rising twenty-eight stories into the Pioneer Valley sky, this monumental building is one of the defining architectural features of the UMass landscape. The outer surface of the Library is clad with a brick veneer intended to harmonize with its surroundings. The original entrance to the Library was through doors on a lower level that opened to the Campus Pond; this floor now houses the reference area. A beautiful courtyard at this level was refurbished by library staff and volunteers in 1998. Take the elevator to the 23rd floor for a spectacular view of the campus and surrounding hills, and for an appreciation of the architect's gridded design: the sunken courtyard and surrounding pavement provide a visual counterpoint to the tower. In the Department of Special Collections and University Archives on the 25th floor, you will find a superlative collection of the noted Civil Rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, for whom the library was named. Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest library in the world, the W.E.B. Du Bois Library houses over three million
The architect Stone offered different options for the exterior of the building, including cement and brick. The latter was selected, perhaps in an effort to harmonize with other buildings on campus.
Du Bois Library Building History
In 1963, Keyes D. Metcalf, a library consultant and then Librarian at Harvard University, suggested that the University of Massachusetts would need a 310,000 square foot library building within the next 10-15 years. Making the construction of a new university library a priority in 1965, Provost Oswald Tippo and President John W. Lederle selected the internationally known architectural firm of Edward Durrell Stone whose work had included the Performing Arts complex in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The original design of the proposed 28-story University library tower was approved by the University Board of Trustees in 1966.
Groundbreaking for the new library took place in April 1969, with an estimated budget of $16.5 million, including a total of about $2.43 million in federal grants. A “great concrete pour” totaling 2,600 cubic yards for the foundation took place in September 1969, and two years later, exterior work was completed, the building topping off at 296.5 feet, then the world's tallest library according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Interior work continued for two more years more, finalizing the wiring, elevators, heating, air conditioning, and furnishings. On January 1973, the University formally accepted the University Library tower and the collections were moved from Goodell Library. The new University Library formally opened on June 26, 1973 and was dedicated at a formal ceremony on October 19, 1974.
In September 1973 some bits of brick were noticed chipping from the façade and limited repairs were attempted. A re-design of the façade from stone to sheets of brick, according to a report, resulted in the spalling, “primarily from stress concentrations produced by mortar placed in ‘soft joints’ below relief angles.” As additional repairs were undertaken, barricades were erected around the perimeter of the building to ensure pedestrian safety, but in September 1979, Chancellor Henry Koffler ordered the University Tower Library closed. A total of 250,000 of the most frequently used books and periodicals were moved by library staff and a local moving company back to Goodell Library, which once again became the main library; librarians retrieved other materials from the Tower as needed. In December 1979, the University Library reopened on a limited basis with a new entrance and other safety modifications. As of February 1980, the University Library was still restricting use to no more than 500 persons at a time. A capital appropriation of $2.5 million dollars from the state legislature allowed for exterior repairs.
Three years later, in June 1983, University officials concluded that no acceptable engineering solution had been found for the brick façade, and the University obtained special action from the legislature allowing for a $2.5 million capital appropriation to be used for interior renovations and an expanded lobby. Interior renovations began in April 1985 to restore the Tower Library to full occupancy and usage. During the 1986/87 school year, staff, student volunteers and other special interest groups helped to clean, paint and refurbish interior areas of the library under the umbrella operations called “Mass Transformation” and “A Class Act”.
On October 5, 1994, the Board of Trustees for the University of Massachusetts voted to name the University Library at the State's flagship campus at Amherst after one of America's most distinguished intellectuals, W.E.B. Du Bois. The University Library at Amherst was dedicated on February 23, 1996 as the W.E.B. Du Bois Library in respect for Du Bois's life-long commitment to the cause of social and racial justice.
In the summer of 2004, work began on the replacement of the Du Bois Library deck and installation of a waterproof membrane. The renovation project included new seating and planters as well as new landscaping at the north end of the library. Edwards and Kelcey Inc. provided the design, with Gardner Engineering Inc. serving as general contractor. The total estimated cost of this renovation was four million dollars.
Naming of the building
"As we march into the Twenty First Century we feel that it is time to go beyond the color line and appropriately name the tower library in honor of one of the finest heroes, not only of Massachusetts but of the world -- William Edward Burghardt Du Bois."
Trustee Document T94-096
Originally called simply "the Library Tower," the Du Bois Library was renamed after the second of two grass-roots efforts to name the building for W.E.B. Du Bois, an advocate for intellectual freedom and civi equality. The dedication events, February 20-23, 1996, included a student and faculty teach-in on the life and times of W.E.B. Du Bois; a concert of spirituals and readings from The Souls of Black Folk, arranged by Professor Horace Boyer; a lecture by David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize winning author of W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1909; a dedication ceremony in Special Collections and Archives; and a convocation celebrating the life of Du Bois, with the awarding of honorary degrees to Herbert Aptheker, Rachel Robinson, and Randall Robinson.
Myths and legends
Since its earliest days, the Library Tower (as it was originally called) has been the subject of speculation, rumors, practical jokes, and the occasional structural problem.
- Was the building actually designed as a library? Yes. The architects had a highly theorized view of how it would function, with floors organized into groups of three. For every floor of offices and carrels devoted to a single department or subject area, the floors above and below would contain books to support research in that area. The plan never came to full fruition.
- Are the bricks falling? Well, yes. Within two months of the opening of the new Library Tower, brick chips began to fall from the side of the tower.
- Is the Library sinking into the ground? Not so much. According to one version of the rumor, the architect did not account for the weight of the books when designing the building and as a result, the heavier than expected library was subsiding slowly into the earth. A different variant of the rumor maintains that the building was built on pond-saturated ground, leading to sinking.
- From Three Architectural Tours: Selected Buildings on the Campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst (Amherst, 2000)
- For additional information of the Library, consult the University Archives (RG 8). Information on the design and construction of the various library building is located in RG 8/5.