McGraw Tower, the iconic symbol for Cornell University, is the first thing one notices when arriving on campus. It’s no coincidence that this imposing clock tower is connected to Uris Library, which, for nearly 70 years, served as the main library on campus. It’s also no coincidence that Andrew Dickson White, Cornell’s first president, believed that “the ideas of a great university and a great library are inextricably linked.” A big-time bibliophile, White donated his own book collection to Cornell and overnight he turned the library into one of the major repositories in nineteenth-century America.

Mind. Body. Soul. The library feeds all three. It’s easy to think of the library as a place of the mind. From the very beginning, its chief function has been to assemble and preserve the collective wisdom contained in books, manuscripts, and other documentary forms. But the library also serves a corporeal role. Its physical facilities are destination points, places where an increasing number of Cornellians (more than 4.5 million visits last year) come to gather and consult, learn, study, conduct research, and think. The library is also a source of inspiration that feeds the soul. Curling up in a chair in A.D. White Library overlooking Cayuga Lake on a snowy winter morning, one can be replenished through daydreams. Attend a lecture or view an exhibit and make a connection with things beyond the daily drill. Pull a book off a shelf, listen to a sound recording, or examine an eighteenth century map and be reminded that existence transcends the 80 years or so we’re given.

"...the ideas of a great university and a great library are inextricably linked."

Some say there is no longer a need for a research library because everything is online and easily available. But they don’t know of Cornell Library and the immense treasures that are located only here, which draw the best and brightest to the university on the Hill, and they don’t know that the majority of scholarly online resources are unlocked only through license arrangements managed by the library. They don’t know that the faculty ranks the library as the leading indicator of work-life satisfaction, or graduating seniors consistently rank the library as the number-one service on campus, or many students credit the library with saving their grade point averages. When asked to describe the library in one sentence, students from all schools and colleges at Cornell responded. Some of their quotes have become my favorite distillation:

“The last place for thought uninterrupted.”

“Peaceful, quiet, caffeine-induced bliss.”

“A hushed big bang: behold, the universe expands!”

“Distinguishing signal from noise.”

Cornell is in the business of provoking ideas, creativity, and scholarly expression and in training generations of students to address the world’s major challenges. As long as the university thrives on the world of the mind, thought happens. It happens better and more effectively when nourished by the library’s resources, services, expertise, and facilities. Andrew Dickson White might fail to appreciate all the changes of the past 150 years, but he would certainly recognize that the library continues to serve as the heart of the university. Come visit us and see for yourself.

University Library: