Ask A Librarian

WVU students, faculty find a new home in old Wise library

Posted by
September 30th, 2003

CONTACT: Monte Maxwell, WVU Libraries, 304-293-4040 ext. 4004

(MEDIA: WVU will rededicate the Charles C. Wise Jr. Library at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 4. The event will include a brief program in the Milano Reading Room, tours of the renovated facility and an unveiling of a Wall of Honor recognizing library supporters.)

An exam fast approaches and a West Virginia University student quietly studies in the James V. and Ann Pozega Milano Reading Room. No computer is near, just a stack of books, notes and a Craftsman-style table lamp illuminating the pages.

The light is new, but the table and chair where she’s sitting are original to the Charles C. Wise Jr. Library. The addition is part of an extensive, one-year renovation project focused on preserving the traditional appearance of the 70-year-old library while making it functional for today’s students.

Based on the crowds who began flocking to the space when the doors opened in January 2003, the results have been a success.

Elizabeth Lee, a doctoral student in history, rarely visited Wise library before the facelift. Now, she can regularly be found in the Milano Room.

“Since the renovation, it’s been great working here,” Lee said. “There’s so much light. The chairs are more comfortable. This is my favorite place in the library to study.”

She finds the area more conducive to studying, and being a historian, she likes the more traditional look.

In agreement is Jane Rago, who is pursuing her doctorate in English. She appreciates having the soft chairs to relax in while reading her many assignments.

“It makes working here so much easier. The room is inspiring,” Rago said.

Renovated Wise has two main reading rooms.

In its former life, the Milano Room served as the reference room. It was also the place where more than 60 years ago James V. Milano approached Ann Pozega and asked her to a movie at the Metropolitan Theater on High Street. The Milanos are originally from Monongalia County, and their romance continues today. The Milano Room houses the 5,000-volume Appalachian Collection.

On the opposite side of the building is the Robinson Reading Room. Once the home of the government documents collection, the room now honors James Robinson, who served 14 years as president of the WVU Foundation. The Robinson Room contains a large portion of the literature collection.

In both reading rooms, wooden bookshelves now line the walls and portraits of past University presidents adorn the spaces above the shelves. The original tables and chairs have been refinished and have gained two additions: reading lamps and Internet drops that allow laptop users to connect to the Web. Great care was taken to hide the drops to preserve the ambiance of a traditional reading room.

Adding to the atmosphere, both rooms have two clusters of soft lounge chairs with each chair flanked by a floor lamp matching the style of the table lamps.

The two rooms are connected by the original Wise lobby, which also underwent a lengthy restoration process. Workers paid particular attention to the majestic green marble archways and the intricate multi-layered ceiling molding. Crews also cleaned and polished and the grillwork on the back wall. New black and white floor tiles complete the lobby and contribute to its formal style.

The result is a scholarly environment that preserves the building’s history. It’s an effort that makes Associate Dean Myra N. Lowe proud. She’s been with the library for three decades and saw the potential in the wooden tables and chairs that had begun showing their age. So she finds it especially gratifying to hear others who recognize the craftsmanship and aesthetic beauty of the library. Visiting alumni often share with her how they dropped in to recapture some memories from their days on campus and were touched to see the reading rooms.
Lowe agrees.

“I’m so pleased with how it turned out,” she said. “Literally every day, I take a few minutes to walk up to one of the reading rooms because I feel inspired when I look at them. They provide such a beautiful traditional library setting.”
Renovations to Wise also allowed the West Virginia and Regional History Collection to return to its original home on the sixth floor. In 1980, space limitations forced the collection to move across University Avenue to Colson Hall.

The new facility allows a dramatic increase in storage space enabling the WVRHC to consolidate holdings that were formerly spread out among several buildings across campus. Today the public reading area for the WVRHC is on the sixth floor, the fifth floor provides storage for the College of Creative Arts’ and the WVRHC’s art collections, and floors seven through 10 house the archives.

WVRHC curator John Cuthbert ranks two exhibition galleries among the greatest assets of the new facility. The Davis Family Galleries allow the library to put the treasures of its collection on public display for the first time.

“Unfortunately, until now, these things have been kept primarily in closed storage, available only to researchers on an individual basis,” Cuthbert said. “The new Davis Family Galleries will change all that and provide an entirely new educational dimension to our program.”

Sketches by David Hunter Strother were on display during the spring semester, and Cuthbert anticipates changing exhibits to focus on different parts of the collection on a bi-annual basis.

The relocation also made security improvements possible.

In Colson Hall, users of rare and non-rare materials shared the same reading room, which made it difficult to keep an eye on valuable collections in use. The new space in Wise, however, has the Stealey Manuscripts Reading Room, a distinct reading room that can be monitored from several vantage points whenever rare materials are in use.

Renovations to Wise were the second phase in the Downtown Library Complex. The first was the Downtown Campus Library built on the front lawn of Wise. An atrium connects the two buildings.

The Downtown Campus Library opened to students in January 2002. The five-floor, state-of-the-art facility has 180 Dell computers with high-speed Internet access, Internet drops at every table and study carrel, 15 group study rooms, five media viewing rooms that enable students to meet in groups to work on projects and a large group classroom capable of hosting teleconferences.

“It makes me happy that our institution was able to provide a beautiful modern library but also a wonderful renovated facility. It gives students a real choice,” Lowe said. “We finally have a facility that is big enough to accommodate the students who want to use the library.”

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