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Library Experiencing Renaissance

Posted by
October 1st, 2003

By Jeff Wright
Daily Athenaeum Staff Writer

After about $4 million was spent to renovate 85,755 square feet of the Charles C. Wise, Jr., Library, it has much the same look as it did more than 70 years ago.

“All the spaces in this building are deliberately sort of old fashioned and (have a) classic library look,” Dean of Libraries Frances O’Brien said.

Much attention was paid to the two reading rooms in the newly restored library, one named after James V. and Ann Pozega Milano and the other after James Robinson, O’Brien said.

“Effort was made to take them back to how they probably looked in 1931 when the library was built,” she said.

Tables and chairs from the original library are in the new one. Some of the chairs still have their 1930 inventory tags on them, O’Brien said.

Although there was a concentrated effort to make the library look like it did in the beginning of the 20th century, there was almost a back-to-the-future type of effort as well.

The original tables from the 1930 were modified to include data ports to which students can connect lap-top computers.

“The technology is here if you want it; it’s just more subtle (than the newer part of the library),” O’Brien said.

The renovations have also made room for things other than books.

“The library has an art collection concerned with art that has something to do with West Virginia,” said Curator of the West Virginia Collection John Cuthbert.

With two art galleries, “We’re re ally happy that we have the opportunity to display our art collection so that students can see it,” Cuthbert said.

The library also has an extensive collection of historical documents.

“WVU started collecting archives and historical papers and other things early in this century really due to the fact that somebody at WVU realized that there wasn’t a state historical society,” Cuthbert said.

Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia all have separate state historical societies that handle historical documents, he said.

The library houses around 125,000 photographs related to West Virginia collections in literally every field, Cuthbert said.

“One of the best things about this new facility is that it gives us space,” he said. “Generally in the past we have been just a research library where people can come in and basically use something one-on-one at a table.”

We’ve not had the ability to more or less share any of our collections, because we have not had much space to exhibit things,” Cuthbert said.

“We have more space generally throughout our facility to set up displays,” said Cuthbert.

Currently there are some artifacts dating to the Civil War on display in the library.

Donated by the granddaughter of a man from Pendleton county who served under Stonewall Jackson, some very rare pieces are on display.

“We also have a great music collection,” Cuthbert said.

“There was a WVU professor back in the 1930s who purchased a machine that cut metal records,” he said. “He was interested in folk music and would put (the record cutting machine) in his car and drive out in West Virginia looking for fiddle and folk players and cut records right there.”

“We have 647 of those records containing over 2,000 songs that pre-date most of radio,” he said.

There is a very extensive collection of archives housed in the newly renovated portion of Wise Library.

“(Floors) seven, eight, nine and 10 are full floors of just bookshelves,” said Cuthbert.

“We’ve filled every single one of those floors with our archival collection. In addition to that, we have about half of the fourth floor with additional archival storage,” he added.

The library will be rededicated on Saturday at 11 a.m. Restorations were made possible by the generous donations of many people and their families that were close to the University, O’Brien said.

“We’re just really happy with the way the restoration turned out,” she said.

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