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Memories of Powell
What Price Glory?

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Spring 1997
Memories of Powell
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The old stacks were just unbelievable. You couldn't find your way out of them. That is, of course, assuming you were able to find your way in in the first place. -- James Cheng, director, UCLA East Asian Library

I wonder if the library is as quiet now as it was then. There were monitors: If you even whispered to the person sitting right next to you, the monitor would come over and say, "SHHH!!" -- Frances Garrett '36

It was with apprehension that I embarked on my own personal tour of Powell one hot afternoon last August, weeks before the official campus open house that was attended by hundreds of alumni, faculty, staff and students. (September was filled with dozens of events celebrating the reopening of the library; I attended many of them.) I just couldn't wait for the official rededication. I needed to find out what they'd done to my hideaway tout de suite.

I cautiously opened the front door, took a step inside, and instantly noticed a huge difference. Could it be? A blast of cold air! Previously, only the stacks had been air-conditioned to protect the books. Students and staff shvitsed. Now the entire building was wonderfully chilly.

I climbed the stairs and took a quick look around; the interior was pretty much as I remembered it. But I was struck by the presence of natural light. New windows at the top of the Rotunda dome and on the south side of the building add brightness that has broken up the pleasant gloom that seemed perennially to fill every nook and cranny. I also found brand-new drinking fountains and bathrooms on every floor -- critically important if you spend a lot of time in the library. And with the "Night Powell" extended-hours reading room in operation (open most nights until 2 a.m.), you can now spend more time here than ever before.

I finally screwed up the courage to check out the stacks, and, I'm pleased to say, found that my fears were groundless. The new stacks, situated neatly on the library's two lowest floors, are, in a word, gorgeous. Roomy and open, they are enclosed by walls painted a bright ivory and pillars covered in Italian stone [what kind?]. Walnut tables and cubicles ground the spaces warmly but authoritatively; the old gray bookshelves have been replaced by stylish metal ones the color of burnt sienna. The good news and the bad news: The stacks have lost the dark, creepy feeling I used to love.

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