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Know your campus: UI Main Library

BY OLIVIA MORAN | MARCH 9, 2009 7:27 AM

Housing more than 2 million books, the size of the UI Main Library is around that of Boston Public Library and the New York Public Library — only it’s bigger.

Built in 1951, the UI Main Library easily surpasses most public libraries in size and volume. The UI has the largest library system in Iowa and is 18th among U.S. research libraries when it comes to the number of works concealed within. The library’s print and electronic collection totals around 4 million books.

“The reason we’re larger is we have a different audience and are collecting different materials,” UI Librarian Nancy Baker said.

The library is home to roughly 30,000 studious UI undergraduate and graduate students, not to mention some members of the public.

In fact, more than 2 million people walk through the library every year — double that of the crowds at all UI athletics events in the same time.

And interestingly enough, even if the entire freshman class needed to use the library at the same time, the members would almost all find comfortable seating — the house of books can seat 4,000 at tables.

Baker said managing the 13 branches on campus is sometimes a challenge, and officials employ lots of students to help the books flow freely until 2 a.m. on week nights and 10 p.m. on the weekends.

“We hire several hundred students a year,” she said. “We couldn’t live without them.”

But the nearly 200 student employees once went without their library job for a month.

The June 2008 flood forced a massive emergency move of the library’s special collections, pieces Baker said are so old they’re considered artifacts.

The library was evacuated from mid June until early July, putting its daily traffic on hold. Luckily, Baker said, none of the books in the facility’s basement were damaged.

The flooding may have stopped traffic over the summer, but she said the students overwhelmed the library as soon as it reopened.


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