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Memories of Powell
What Price Glory?

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Spring 1997
Memories of Powell
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Our intrepid correspondent returns to the library and is relieved to discover that five years and a major face lift-later, the Powell she loved is warmer and mere inviting.

By Wendy Soderburg '82
Photography by Tim Street-Porter and University Archives

I remember there were rumors about people being lost in the Powell stacks forever. Someone told me that a body had once been found there, that human bones had actually been recovered! -- Estelle Novak '61, M.A. '62, Ph.D. '68

Like just about everyone who ever attended UCLA, when I think about the university I think of the Lawrence Clark Powell Library: History. Tradition. Architectural beauty. The pursuit of knowledge. Backpack imprints on flesh.

See, I was not exactly the most exemplary student. Fact is, when I'd announce I was off to Powell to "study," my friends knew I was really going to seek out the darkest, most secluded corner of the book stacks, plop my head down on my backpack and crash out. I'd wake up an hour or so later with a mirror image of Nike rayon on my face, complete with alarmingly accurate impressions of the plastic clasps.

Powell was my asylum, a quiet, crepuscular womb of knowledge. I especially loved the stacks -- row after row after row of gunmetal-gray shelves lined with comfortingly old books, surrounded by a maze of graffiti-encrusted study carrels, which I found to be perfect upright cots for catching much-needed zzzzzs. True, the stacks never really fit in with the rest of the library's classic northern Italian architecture (Powell was built in 1929; the stacks were awkwardly grafted on in 1958). But their ungainliness only made them the more endearing to me.

In fact, I loved Powell so much that in my third year at UCLA, I wormed a job working as a student assistant in the undergraduate College Library on the second floor. Following my graduation, I began working in the library full-time and remained on staff for six years. Considering the two or three hours I spent in Powell every day as a student and the eight-hour days I put in as an employee, for the better part of a decade I lived more in the library than I did at home.

Is it any wonder the idea that the old Powell stacks no longer existed, having fallen victim to the library's recently completed, $35-million seismic overhaul, filled me with dread? All those memories -- all those years of sweet dreams -- sacrificed to fussy building codes! The new stacks couldn't possibly possess the unaffected character of the old ones.

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